Sociology graduate paves a new way after a difficult upbringing

Tanya Alegria, who struggled with homelessness and substance abuse, waves to family after receiving her degree from Grand Canyon University during Wednesday afternoon’s Spring Commencement ceremony.

Photos by Ralph Freso / Slideshow / Livestream

“Let your life preach louder than your lips.”

Tanya Alegria emphasized her biggest life lesson as she prepared to walk across the Commencement stage as a Grand Canyon University graduate.

Originally from Los Angeles, Alegria grew up in a single-parent household. At a very early age, she and her siblings were exposed to a world of addiction, abuse and neglect. Because of her mom’s struggles with addiction, Alegria left her home at age 14 and faced homelessness for the rest of her teenage years.

Looking for ways to endure and survive, she turned to street gangs.

“I joined a gang because I felt like I would be protected,” Alegria said. “I connected with other youth that were on the streets with similar experiences at home, and we gravitated toward each other.”

College of Humanities and Social Sciences Dean Dr. Sherman Elliott congratulates Alegria on her accomplishment.

At age 18, Alegria was expecting her first son, but sadly, did not have the chance to start her own family the way she wanted to after her son’s father was tragically gunned down.

She lost that sense of home again because of the tragic incident and decided to return to her old neighborhood. But it wasn’t long before she left her childhood home again after she continued to clash with her mother and plunged back into homelessness.  

“I had a friend’s family offer to help me with housing. They were so kind, but I didn’t feel like I belonged there. I didn’t feel like I deserved it.

“Those who experience homelessness, substance use, exploitation, you feel like you are not a part of the society. You live in this other subculture.”

For the next 11 years, Alegria fought an uphill battle every day. She continually struggled with homelessness, street gang affiliations and her own addictions, while trying to provide for four children.

“It was a relentless struggle, but my unyielding faith in God eventually guided me toward a pivotal moment.”

Alegria said she lost all hope, then a woman from church called and asked to pray for her.

Alegria still remembers the night that changed everything.

“It was on a night when I had lost all hope and was at the end of my rope that the phone kept ringing in the motel room where I was staying with my kids. I finally picked it up, and it was the woman that used to take me to church. She said, ‘Tanya, God put you in my heart and I felt like we need to come pray for you. I have been thinking of you.'

“They came and prayed for me. I went to church after that, and the pastor encouraged me that I was going to make it out, but my circumstances were so hard, I couldn’t see how I would possibly make it out.”

But there was light at the end of the tunnel, after all, when Alegria’s twin sister surprised her with bus tickets for her and her children to move to Arizona, where she was living.

“I got on the bus at one in the morning with my four kids, not knowing that I was pregnant with my fifth. I headed to Arizona and was crying and praying the whole time.

“I wanted to give my kids a chance at a life that we didn’t get when we first came into this world. I prayed and said to God, ‘If you take care of my kids, I will spend the rest of my life serving people like me.’”

After earning her high school diploma, Alegria was unstoppable. She now holds a bachelor's degree in sociology.

This move marked the beginning of a new life for Alegria she never thought was possible.

With the support of her sister and the town community, consistent church attendance, countless job opportunities and a determined mind, she began healing her life. She returned to school to earn her high school diploma but did not stop there.

After overhearing a coworker talk about his experience as a GCU student, Alegria’s interest was piqued at the thought of earning a college degree. She was encouraged to look into GCU after her conversation and, quickly after that, her application was submitted.

“I liked GCU because we are able to incorporate our faith. If I am going to be working in a world that is a lot different from what I believe in, how am I still going to provide those quality services? Every day, scripture was posted in class, and it always reassured me that I was in the right place.

“Every time I felt like quitting, my student services counselor would call me to tell me I am almost there and can do it. She always found a way to encourage me to keep going and finish my bachelor's.”

Alegria, pictured with College of Humanities and Social Sciences Dean Dr. Sherman Elliott, is dedicated to supporting vulnerable populations.

The idea of healing, peace and stability felt unattainable for so long for Alegria, and the thought of finishing school and working in her desired field seemed impossible.

She has spent more than a decade giving back and working for organizations that support vulnerable populations, at-risk youth, those struggling with addiction, homelessness and more. She has been in recovery for the past 18 years and now holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology.

“God paved the way for me. I feel that God has honored His promise to me that He would not leave my side, He would make a way and my kids would be taken care of.

“I kept thinking about crossing that stage and getting that diploma for my kids and to know that no matter where you come from, you can still do it. I’m not surviving anymore, I’m thriving.”

GCU staff writer Izabela Fogarasi can be reached at [email protected]

***

Related content:

GCU News: Master's graduate earns A in perseverance

GCU News: Critical Mass hits a high note at Commencement

GCU News: Navy vet, cancer survivor sharpens her 'bloodhound's sense' for tech at GCU

GCU News: Nursing graduate to mom: 'I know she sees me and is proud of me'

Calendar

Calendar of Events

M Mon

T Tue

W Wed

T Thu

F Fri

S Sat

S Sun

1 event,

0 events,

3 events,

3 events,

6 events,

3 events,

1 event,

0 events,

1 event,

0 events,

0 events,

1 event,

1 event,

1 event,

0 events,

0 events,

0 events,

0 events,

0 events,

3 events,

1 event,

0 events,

0 events,

2 events,

1 event,

0 events,

0 events,

1 event,

0 events,

GCU Magazine

Bible Verse

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:24)

To Read More: www.verseoftheday.com/