My LopeLife: Humanities grads share their joy

Earning a college degree is a way to make family members proud.

GCU News Bureau

Editor's note: They all have a story, every single online graduate at Grand Canyon University. And to celebrate Fall Commencement, GCU Today is publishing their amazing stories, in their own words. First up: the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, which filled the 9 a.m. ceremony Thursday. The photos, by David Kadlubowski, are from various scenes at the ceremony. For a full replay of the ceremony, click here.


In June 2017, even though I had a full-time job as a police department communications supervisor, was married and raising two young children, was teaching dance and was battling lupus, I charged into the unknown universe of online education.

To say I was intimidated, insecure and feeling completely inadequate would be grossly understating how I felt and would continue to feel the first week of each of my 14 classes throughout my degree program.

I will not lie – it was not pretty. I cried a lot, threw larger tantrums than my young daughters, pulled all-nighters, had regular meltdowns, and at one point threw my laptop across the room. I almost quit three times.

But then some amazing things started happening along the way; I started stringing together A’s. Then I got a letter that I was on the President’s List, I got an invitation to be inducted into GCU’s chapter of Alpha Chi, and suddenly my girls were recognizing my accomplishments academically. They became my fuel to finish.

All I wanted more than anything now was to walk across that stage to show my girls that no matter how old you are, how sick you are, how busy you are, with determination and hard work you can accomplish the impossible.

Tiffany Coulombe

B.A. in Government with an Emphasis in Legal Studies


After I had started working toward my master’s degree, I was involved in a serious car accident. It took several months of evaluations and testing to determine the exact nature of my injuries. I continued to try to maintain my established work/school balance while trying not to be overwhelmed with the uncertainty associated with my physical condition.

After I was placed on bed rest, I decided to use school as a way of focusing on something other than the pain and discomfort. Almost a year after the accident, I underwent surgery on the base of my neck to repair three disks that had been damaged, and today I continue to recover.

My professors and advisors have been understanding during the long process. My fellow students have been very kind with their prayers and positive thoughts. My family, friends and co-workers have been encouraging and supportive.

I am grateful to God for seeing me through this long and painful journey. I have learned so much during this process and look forward to whatever is to come.

Elizabeth O'Brien

M.S. in Addiction Counseling


I struggled with addiction for a long time but have been sober for several years. I have not forgotten that one of my mentors told me that my life experience would only take me so far; I needed to get my formal education so that I could be balanced and offer the best services to those that struggle. 

I started my M.S. in Addiction Counseling in July 2017 with the goal of completing with a 4.0, which I have achieved. My experience with GCU has been absolutely blessed, and I know that my journey is in God’s will.

Sheri L. Sheneman 

M.S. in Addiction Counseling


The confetti rains down on the new graduates Thursday morning.

As a teenage runaway, I dabbled with drugs and alcohol and had no idea how lost I was. I fell in with the wrong crowd in my young adult years, became addicted to methamphetamine and found myself on the streets of south Phoenix, struggling to survive.

I later was arrested on drug-related charges and spent the next 90 days being pursued by God in the most unexpected place – a jail cell. I have never heard God speak louder to me than I did then, and I gave my life to the Lord within those walls. I left with a passion burning inside me, knowing that God was going to use me.

I set out to pursue higher education with the goal of providing counsel and hope for those who have been through traumatic events. Now that I have my degree, I still hear God’s promises to me in the desert of a jail cell.

Leah Echeveste

B.S. in Psychology


I enrolled at GCU in January 2016 and during this time have had a demanding job in Human Resources and have helped care for my four grandchildren while my single-mom daughter worked toward her BSN, which she earned in January. Then my younger daughter gave birth to my fifth grandchild, and they both live with me.

When I was less than halfway through the program, I wavered in my resolve to see this through and decided to seek some guidance from a therapist: Should I continue or cut my losses?

I laid out to her all my woes and challenges and ended with “and I will be 57 when I graduate.” She looked at me ever so calmly and said, “Well, you will be 57 anyway, so you might as well have a degree.”

I have used her words to spur me on, and I hope that I can inspire others who may not think they can do something like this at “their age” or because of “their” obstacle. Thank you, GCU, for your online program and for helping me fulfill a 30-year dream.

Sherri L. Wright

B.S. in Psychology


My story is for all of you who think you’re too old. I just turned 69, and now that I have my master’s, I’ve decided to work toward a doctorate.

I care for and home-school my 11-year-old grandchild and his sister, who is 26 and has been with me since she was 8 months old. I am a breast cancer survivor, and school was all I held onto except for my faith in my Father above. Through His faith and grace, I am here today. Praise God.

Jennifer Simpson

M.S. in Mental Health and Wellness


The Arena was filled with graduates and their families.

At age 66, the thought came to me more than once:

“Carolyn, what are you thinking? What makes you think you can get your master’s degree at your age? And what about your bipolar disorder?”

And to add insult to injury, “You can’t even work the new Mac Pro your husband bought in his excitement for your studies!”

But I was driven by the mandate God gave when He spoke to me: “I have need of your master’s degree.”

Fear, trepidation, insecurity and downright paralysis gripped my heart, mind and soul. No exaggeration: The stress and anxiety caused loss of feeling in my left arm two weeks in. And that was just during the introduction to the program!

Discussion questions took me from 2-3 hours, responses at least an hour. Wednesday assignments consumed 20-30 hours of intense study. On top of all that, life kept happening. Work, ministry, household responsibilities and my husband’s hip surgery threatened to derail me.

But God! He used my coursework to show me myself. I began to look at each week’s assignment one at a time rather than looking 16 months down the road. Engaging discussions with classmates and professors were opportunities to learn and grow, and the degree at the end is an amazing bonus!

Carolyn Hunt

M.S. in Mental Health and Wellness with an Emphasis in Ministry


I was working on a master’s degree at another university when my father was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. I struggled with school, supporting myself, working full-time and helping with mom and dad as much as possible and, when I thought I could graduate, I found out I did not have enough credits for what I wanted to accomplish. So instead of walking at commencement, I was totally discouraged.

I researched and found that GCU offered the degree I wanted, so I went back to school one more time. This time, I was going to have closure.

In the meantime, I met and married my God-chosen mate, and with his encouragement and incredible support I have made that long-awaited walk across the stage to receive my diploma.

Patricia McDougald

M.S. in Sociology


On Oct. 31, 2018, two weeks from completing my coursework, with my practicum start date secured, I suffered a hemorrhagic stroke while out for my daily 3-mile run. No warning signs, no health risks, just two brain aneurysms on a beautiful fall day.

I actually made it to class that night, thinking that it was just a bad migraine. The doctor in the ER confirmed otherwise: right-sided craniotomy, two weeks in intensive care, loss of vision in my right eye.

I once again found myself battling the depression that had plagued me before, and for the first time in my life I wanted to give up. I knew nothing else but to get down on my knees and pray – like I had never prayed before. I simply asked God to help me remember that no matter what physical or emotional pain I was in – I WAS ALIVE! 

Now almost a year later, this cap and gown represent so much more than graduation. They represent all the help that I received from advisors, faculty, family and friends. They are symbols of resilience, courage and healing. But most importantly, they remind me once again that I AM ALIVE!

Tina Tarin

M.S. in Professional Counseling


Dr. Tim Griffin, Pastor and Dean of Students, leads the processional at the end of the ceremony.

I was on my own completely by age 12 and dodged foster care by squatting in abandoned houses and doing everything from roofing houses to pulling rye in wheat fields.

When my oldest was born, I was a single mom. Not only was she the best thing to happen to me, having her meant I legally qualified as an independent. Having no parents to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), I finally was able to enroll in community college. Since then, I have been slowly working my way toward my dream of a Ph.D. and a professorship.

My program with GCU has helped make me competent and competitive and has truly allowed me to come into my own as a professional. I am reaching those goals that also help me realize who I wanted to be as a person.

JoAnna Scott

M.S. in Professional Counseling


Three months into my program, I learned that I had cancer. The prognosis was not good, and at first my heart was broken because I wanted so badly to show my three boys that you can set your mind to anything and succeed. My emotions were all over the place.

By the grace of God, I was misdiagnosed. Even though it was still Stage 4 cancer, it turned out to be thyroid and not lung. I could get through this. I had surgery and radiation and prayed ... a lot.

I was out of work for about six months, and when I finally returned to the job I had held for 25 years, I was told my position was being eliminated. Even so, I felt blessed and knew God was with me and had a plan for me. I decided to get right back at it and move forward as planned with my dream of getting my degree and teaching my boys a life lesson I hoped they could follow.

My faith is strong and I’ve worked hard, and God has certainly led the way.

Romana Ruiz

B.S. in Sociology


Being part of this ceremony today is a big accomplishment for me because I am from Brazil, my grandparents could not read or write, my parents did not go to college and I had to suspend my university education in Brazil because I could not afford it anymore.

But when I decided to go back to school, I heard criticism about my age (I was 39 at the time), about my family (they needed me as a mother and wife) and the money I would spend on the program. They said I would never have a job because I am an immigrant. They said a lot of people start college but wouldn’t finish it.

I had never had used a computer for anything beyond reading and sending emails, which made an online course seem impossible. But when I contacted GCU, the advisor was so positive and made me feel so comfortable.

My husband said the sky was my limit. My youngest son said he would help with the computer and English if I needed it. My closest friends proofread my papers and understood when I could not be there for them. They knew how important it was for me to cross the finish line.

Yolanda Djom

B.S. in Behavioral Health Science

Related content:

GCU Today: Slideshow: Fall Commencement, Friday evening ceremony

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GCU Today: Slideshow: Fall Commencement, Friday afternoon ceremony

GCU Today: Slideshow: Fall Commencement, Friday morning ceremony

GCU Today: My LopeLife: Stories from Thursday evening session

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GCU Magazine

Bible Verse

David said to Michal, "It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when He appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel — I will celebrate before the Lord. (2 Samuel 6:21)

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