GCU graduate fulfills late mother's dream of her getting a college degree

Sociology major Paula Fletcher's college plans were delayed by family responsibilities, but she persevered.

Photos by Ralph Freso / Wednesday morning slideshow / Wednesday afternoon slideshow

For high school graduates, the first summer after graduation is all about basking in their achievements, preparing for college and maybe even taking a trip somewhere. But Paula Fletcher’s post-graduation summer reflected nothing of those sorts.

“Four days after I graduated high school, my mom had a major stroke during her total knee replacement surgery. She was in the hospital for months, and that left me caring for my niece, whom my mom was responsible for at the time,” Fletcher said.

“That turned into my main focus, and before I knew it, I naturally put everything in front of continuing my education.”

Fletcher said her mom's favorite color was purple, and purple drew her to GCU.

Grand Canyon University’s Fall Commencement is somewhere Fletcher never thought she would be.

At age 17, she found her life going in a different direction from what she had expected. She began her college journey at Sinclair Community College, but after one quarter, she made the decision to drop out of school to tend to her sick mother and take care of her niece.

“There was one excuse after another from taking care of my mom, raising my nieces, marriage, divorce, the list goes on.”

But when a GCU representative showed up at her place of work, Horizon Science Academy Dayton Elementary, to talk to staff about returning to school, Fletcher could not help but wonder if it was her time to finally continue the education she had placed on hold for so long. Her mom had passed away. Her niece was grown, and her own daughters were on a good path in school. Finishing school felt like a possibility this time around.

“Purple was my mom’s favorite color. Before she passed, she told me she was sorry I had to take care of her instead of going to college.”

“I kept staring at the table, and God spoke to me, ‘It is your time.’”

After sharing her story with the GCU representative and hearing more about the school, she walked away inspired to earn a degree and finish what she had started over 25 years ago. Before she knew it, she was enrolled in her first year at GCU as a sociology/social work major.

A photo of her mother, Sandra Pennington, and an inspirational charm on her tassel were part of Fletcher's graduation regalia.

“I chose this major because I want to understand people instead of just help connect them with resources. I want to work with the elderly because of my mom,” Fletcher said. "I was only 17 at the time, and I didn’t realize that I didn’t have to drop out of school. No one connected me with resources. Giving back to the elderly will be a great project, because now I can completely understand what it’s like to take care of someone.

“The process of enrolling was easy, but the time management for the assignments was so difficult."

Luckily for Fletcher, several of her classes focused on time management, and the best way to organize one’s schedule. She learned about the importance of routine and making a checklist of her assignments as she would receive and complete them. Every time something was crossed off, it marked another step closer to the completion of her degree.

After the ceremony, Fletcher gets a hug from her fiancé.

“My classes and mock assignments made me surer of myself that I am doing the right thing, and this trained me. I didn’t have anyone to be trained by. I am writing the path for the next person.”

There were countless moments where Fletcher felt like giving up. A busy schedule and hardships along the way caused doubt in believing if the timing was truly right for her. Juggling a full-time job as a mom of two kids and a fiancé, it felt like there just wasn’t enough time in the day to focus on everything.

“I knew my mom was watching from above, and I needed to make sure my daughters see me practice what I preach to them about doing their best.”

Fletcher folds herself into a congratulatory hug from one of her daughters as they celebrate her achievement.

“I finished my last assignment while I was at work. I waited to show my kids before submitting it, and they were so excited for me; they took a picture of the screen.”

For Fletcher, getting a degree was more than just making herself proud. She strived to show her daughters the importance of determination and persistence, but most of all, she wanted to fulfill the dream her mom had for her: to go to college.

“I didn’t just do it, I excelled. I hung in there, and I am proud to say that I am a 2023 GCU graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Sociology with an Emphasis in Social Work.”

GCU's Staff Writer Izabela Fogarasi can be reached at [email protected]

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