By Karen Fernau
GCU News Bureau
Graduating senior Tatiana Parada arrived as a freshman at Grand Canyon University with the zeal of a child at Disneyland.
“I loved everything about campus. Classes, meeting teachers, friends — it was all so exciting,” said Parada, who graduated Friday with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature.
In her first two years at GCU, the student with Thunder-like enthusiasm led tours on campus, volunteered to plant trees in hardscrabble neighborhoods, served as a life leader and traveled overseas as a GCU ambassador.
Then, after sophomore year, she left. The music turned literature major moved to Los Angles to marry Max Parada, her high school boyfriend and an aspiring filmmaker.
She chose love and marriage over love and GCU.
“It was a bittersweet decision,” the 23-year-old admitted.
Her GCU friends were torn, happy for her happiness but fearful marriage and a full-time job would sabotage graduation.
Parada, however, never shared their concerns.
The Christian who left her hometown outside Spokane, Wash., for the private college in Phoenix was determined to earn her degree.
And not from any university, but from GCU.
After finishing her last two years online, she has done just that.
Parada, unlike the lion’s share of her GCU friends, split her academic career in half, taking classes on campus and then online. It’s an academic route she highly recommends.
“I feel as if I have had the best of both worlds. I have experienced the amazing electricity of campus and have seen the amazing, equally vibrant atmosphere of the online classroom,” she said.
“I was able to continue my education without skipping a beat.”
She credits GCU’s all-hands-on-deck commitment to students.
“I will forever be thankful for the flexibility that GCU offers. It truly is a university that advocates for its students,” said Parada, who completed her online coursework while working as a blogger and social media writer for a hardwood flooring manufacturer.
Her friends, many of whom were naysayers when she left campus, believe Parada’s steely determination also played a role.
Marleen Williams, a GCU graduate working on her master’s degree and as an online counselor in the military division, was “a lost freshman” when Parada became her life leader in Saguaro Hall.
“I was a crazy, rambunctious girl without a filter and Tatiana became my anchor, my teacher. She was always there for me,” Williams said. “She helped me academically, emotionally and spiritually.”
Like other GCU friends, Williams planned to be in GCU Arena watching Parada accept her hard-earned diploma.
“She showed all of us who doubted whether she would finish,” Williams said.
Elizabeth McArdle, a childhood friend from their hometown outside Spokane, Wash., was Parada’s roommate both years on campus.
A 2016 GCU graduate, McArdle also worried that leaving after sophomore year might spell the end to Parada’s education.
“Tatiana is very determined, but life happens,” said McArdle, a former marketing major who spent a year on a global mission after graduating.
She, too, planned to watch Parada receive her diploma.
How was she going to congratulate her dear friend?
“I am going to say how proud I am of her that she stuck it out and finished. I am proud of her perseverance and privileged to know someone who is as sweet and caring as she is determined,” McArdle said.
For Parada, commencement doubled as homecoming. This week’s trip is her first back to campus.
Yes, she’s heard about the dramatic changes — new dorms, eateries, sports facilities and engineering building.
“I know that it will look and feel different than when I was there,” said Parada, who eventually wants to parlay all she learned studying great writers into a career writing fiction.
“I’ll visit Saguaro, walk around campus and enjoy my memories. I left, but they never did.”