Commencement to culminate her 16-year journey
By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau
At the beginning of her academic journey, Desiree Ortiz never imagined celebrating the completion of her bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Grand Canyon University.
Mere months ago, having finished her degree in February, the thought of traveling to Phoenix to walk across the Commencement stage was still uncertain. Despite it all, Ortiz will join a group of her fellow online graduates as they finally are honored at 5 p.m. Monday in the first of seven makeup ceremonies scheduled over the next two months.
It took Ortiz 16 years to complete her undergraduate degree, a journey that would have humble beginnings.
Back then, the new mother had only one thing on her mind when she put her college course work on hold – making sure her daughter Kira, who was born with heart disease, would see her fifth birthday.
“My education was furthest from my mind,” she recalled.
By that time, Kira was only a year old and had had multiple open-heart surgeries, the first one a month and a half after she was born.
Ortiz told herself she would return to school when her daughter was healthier, but little did she know it would take years before that would happen.
Working her full-time job at Irvine Valley College in Irvine, California, being a mother of two after the birth of her daughter Zoey and maintaining other household responsibilities prolonged the journey, forcing her to knock away a few credits at a time.
Finally, 10 years after she paused her academics, she completed her associate degree. Despite the blessing in finding a job she loves that could help support her family without a college degree, Ortiz knew that her dream of getting her bachelor’s would never leave her mind.
“I’m a firm believer in my faith, and things happen the way that my plan is supposed to happen,” she said. “When I got the job actually working at a community college and was able to take the first few courses that I needed on campus, then I knew that at that specific moment that this could be my reality, that I could obtain my bachelor’s degree.
“I knew it was something that I still needed to do for myself.”
Her job allowed her to pick up where she had left off, but it would also help guide her to her future alma mater. Her dean at the community college was enrolled in one of GCU’s doctoral program and recommended she check out the University.
Everything just seemed to fall into place.
“The curriculum, as far as online, was what I needed,” she said. “It fit perfectly, and that’s when I started.”
It again was a long journey to the completion of her bachelor’s degree, but she never took her eye off the prize, even when things got challenging. Ortiz credits counselor Liz Robbins for helping her through the program.
“She would be the one that I called, and she would be the one to provide me with support,” she said. “Even if it was just an email like, ‘Hey, Liz, I don’t know if I can do this,’ and she immediately would respond or pick up the phone and just provide that support of ‘You can do this, you have X amount of classes left, you can do this, you can do this.’
“She always took the time out to make sure that I stayed on track.”
The ease with which GCU’s online program fit into Ortiz’s life allowed her to feel at home. She had found the place that God had planned for her to be.
“From the moment that I hit that button to inquire about GCU to when I finished, it had been nothing but support and great communication,” she said. “I always had a sense that I knew that I belonged there.”
Now, having completed her program, years after putting her education on hold, Ortiz is excited to check the final box of her undergraduate journey – a proper in-person commencement.
It will be Ortiz’s first celebration since completing her course work; she didn’t take part in the virtual ceremony earlier this year because of a schedule conflict. She looks forward to showing her family, specifically her daughters, what is possible through hard work and perseverance.
“I wanted to teach both of my girls that you just keep on pushing forward no matter how long it takes and what it takes,” she said.
Ortiz’s two daughters, husband Alexander and her parents will accompany her as she travels to Phoenix for her long-awaited commencement ceremony.
If there is one thing to take away from her journey, Ortiz said, it’s understanding that every person’s journey looks different and shouldn’t be compared to anyone else’s.
“It’s your own journey, so it’s what you see true and fit for yourself,” she said. “No matter how hard it is, and I know at times it probably seems very difficult, each step is one day closer in the journey.”
Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected].
GCU Today: Families grateful for in-person Commencement