My LopeLife: Nurses know all about hanging tough

October 21, 2019 / by / 0 Comment

New nursing graduates shows off their diplomas after Friday afternoon’s ceremony.

GCU News Bureau

Editor’s note: Nurses are all about helping other people, but they have to help themselves, too, to earn a college degree. They’re certainly not quitters, as they show time and again in these My LopeLife submissions about what drove them to finally get their diploma at Fall Commencement on Friday afternoon. The photos are by Ralph Freso. For a full replay of the ceremony, click here.


My journey with online GCU began when I was a newly single mother. I had a 1-year-old and a 4-year-old. We lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment, and I barely could afford to put food on the table most days. I worked full-time for a large medical foundation in an entry-level leadership role.

As my children grew, my career progressed, my responsibilities grew and the classes with GCU became increasingly challenging, I realized just how much weight was on my shoulders. I had a million excuses why quitting was the best option, but my faith in God and my beautiful daughters looking up to me kept me grounded. 

I just kept going. No matter the trials I faced, I just kept going. To me, there was no turning back. Eventually I progressed into management with my employer and the workdays got longer and harder, but quitting school was not an option. I sacrificed time for myself and time with my daughters for hours of assignment prep and DQ responses. 

I did not see it then, but passing my last class was an absolute joy. I had worked so hard for this. My daughters had sacrificed so much of their mommy time for this. Suddenly, my journey was not just about me completing my bachelor’s degree. Suddenly it became more about being a light for others who might be struggling to dedicate themselves to completing their education.

The classes I took to obtain my degree truly advanced my career in management. I learned so much and was able to apply that knowledge to my everyday role. I directly relate the tools and resources I learned to my growth within the organization. 

Leslie Dennis

B.S. in Health Care Administration


I visited GCU for the commencement ceremony in April 2015, and by the next month I was in my first class.

This journey has been very difficult. I have faced the deaths of three family members within a year, my mom fighting cancer, having another child, taking care of four other children, commuting nearly 100 miles a day to work and arriving to work two hours early to work on my homework every day.

There were so many people who would tell me that I couldn’t finish what I started, that I would quit, that I would barely pass my courses. Family members laughed at me because I was just starting college after having six children, and I was doing it at the same time my children were starting classes. Although this was very discouraging, it made me even more determined to prove everyone wrong.

The day I turned in my Capstone project was bittersweet, and I sat in front of my computer and just cried tears of joy. The tears were happy tears because I knew then that all the discouraging words, comments, gestures and gossip that lingered around my education pushed me to get a 3.77 GPA, and I could not be prouder to be a Lope.

Michelle Mendez

B.S. in Health Care Administration


This mortarboard pretty much sums it up for nursing grads.

I tried a few times to complete my BSN, but life happened: I had a son who was diagnosed at the age of 20 months with high functioning autism. I quit my job and stayed home to work with him for three years, and when he was 22 months old, my second son was born.

My husband, who is retired from the Air Force and employed by Lockheed Martin, was traveling quite a bit, sometimes for a few months at a time. I had a lot on my plate with my children, and my education was not on the horizon for me.

In March 2018 I was at work, and a representative from GCU was in cafeteria. After talking with her for about 15 minutes, I decided, “My kids are now 9 and 11, I am absolutely going to do this!”

I was set to graduate last April, but once again life happened. In September 2018 I was diagnosed with lymphoma and went through surgery and chemotherapy. I tried to continue with my classes, but cancer had other plans for me and I had to take a six-month break.

I made it through chemo on the last day of January, had another surgery on Feb. 15, and on April 15 I resumed my classes and returned to work.

So now here I am, graduating with honors! Yes, I am proud of myself. I am happy and blessed to be where I am.

Lori Van Cleave

B.S. in Nursing


I feel blessed that I joined GCU’s BSN program following a six-year sabbatical from enrollment in a previous BSN program – I had to withdraw after completing one class because my husband was diagnosed with cancer and required emergency surgery and aggressive chemotherapy. Because family comes first, my degree progression was tabled as our family supported him during his treatments and recovery.

Luckily, Dave’s oncologist deemed him in full remission last July. This gave me the opening to restart my degree progression in August 2018, and here we are celebrating not only the blessings bestowed upon my family and me but also upon all of yours.

Elise Fernstrom

B.S. Nursing


I have been an RN for 22 years and wanted to complete my bachelor’s degree, but life happened with seven children ranging in age from 15 to 31. I am a Director of Nursing of a facility and didn’t think I could fit in the time to complete this degree.

Then one day I heard about GCU, a Christian university that offered a great online program you can start anytime during the year, and I knew I had found the place for me.

Thank you, Grand Canyon University, for assisting me in completing this lifelong goal!

Monique Moore

B.S. in Nursing


Nursing graduates listen attentively during the ceremony.

Nursing is not only a career but a calling for me. I started my career in my early 20s and was in leadership positions by my 30s. I gained the highest education I could at the time in my country. 

I moved to the United States to pursue my BSN and decided to have a family, but it took me many years before I got my BSN. One of my main barriers was fear even though I knew that 1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

I emailed GCU and another university and received a prompt response from GCU. The admission counselor was patient, encouraging and supportive in the process, which I needed to rocket launch my education. 

My youngest daughter was on the honor roll, and I used her plaque as motivation to stay focused. With lots of prayers, I challenged myself to show my children that God can use willing people to achieve what needs to be done.

Valerie Smith

B.S. in Nursing


What seemed impossible each day became more possible until I was introduced to Grand Canyon University late 2017. I took a leap of faith, talked with a representative from GCU and enrolled.

My fears were big and my doubts kept trying to drag me down, but my GCU counselor cheered me on as God gave me the strength to put one foot in front of the other and walk this path.

From supportive professors and staff faculty, GCU has helped me find my purpose to help others and to think globally as a servant leader representing GCU. I am excited for my next journey and know I can confidently step out into this world as a GCU alumna and fulfill my passion to help others.

Mary Lucas Koach  

B.S. in Health Science in Professional Development and Advanced Patient Care


I have been wanting to get my bachelor’s degree for a long time, but something always got in the way – finances, kids, etc. I work full-time and also take care of my 91-year-old mother, who has dementia, and my brother, who has Down syndrome.

What finally made me just go for it was that I wanted to show my sons that anything is possible at any age if you put your mind to it. I was very apprehensive at first about doing classes online because I’m old school and am used to seeing professors face to face. Learning online was challenging and definitely a big learning curve for me.

I told a colleague that I have never written so many papers in my life. The first month was stressful, but after I figured everything out it was a breeze.

In the end, it was all worth it. I loved hearing from my classmates from all over the United States and listening to the challenges and difficulties they face every day as nurses.

Marie Anne Deveza

B.S. in Nursing


In 2017, while I was home recovering from surgery, I was struggling with the decision of what I wanted to do with the rest of my life and got a fortune cookie that said “Make the change.”

Within an hour I saw an ad on social media for Grand Canyon University. The next day I called and talked to a counselor, within a couple of hours I was registered at GCU for my first class and I started two weeks later.

Today there are no words to express the feelings I have. I have finally completed a goal I set in motion for myself 23 years ago. I am very grateful and blessed to have had family and friends that supported me throughout this journey.

My husband and boys have encouraged me and never let me quit when I was feeling overwhelmed. Set your goals and never give up – you can achieve anything if you put your mind to it!

Mary Berini

B.S. in Health Care Administration

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