The long, long walk to a degree pays off for Kenya native

Jacqueline Nyakoe is joined (from left) by children Ryan, 13, and Tahillah, 10, and husband Patrick before Friday's Commencement.

Photos by Tanielle Gilbert / Livestream

She got to campus two hours before the ceremony, outfitted her entire family in “GCU” shirts and hats, and before walking in to get her college degree was prompted to tell children Ryan, 13, and Tahillah, 10, what it all means for a native of Kenya who once read schoolwork by flamelight.

“I have done this because I want to make your life better. I want you to be happy and see you graduate – even get your Ph.D.,” she said, standing in the Phoenix sun at Grand Canyon University for the first time, preparing to accept her bachelor’s degree in nursing.

Jacqueline Nyakoe, 45, was the ninth of 10 children in a rural Kenyan family. When her mom died, she was raised by older sister Sabina Kerubo, who was determined that she would get an education, hauling used clothing to sell on the streets to raise school fees. Some days her sister wouldn’t eat.

Without electricity in the home, Nyakoe read her school lessons in the evening by soaking strips of cloth in kerosene and burning them in a metal container for light. “We needed to read to pass our exams, but it created a lot of smoke.”

By high school, with even proper meals at a premium, she had to find a way to make money.

“I would walk very far, 10 miles or so, and go buy doughnuts wholesale, walk 10 miles back, put them in my locker and during break time sell them to students, then I would walk six miles home after school,” she said. “Walk, walk, walk. We are a walking nation.”

Nyakoe is emblematic of many of the 23,600 students from across the world who graduated this spring from GCU after studying online or in cohorts, including those in nursing and education on Friday morning at Global Credit Union Arena. Despite the barriers, despite long miles, “I knew what I wanted.”

It was a long road to lift this diploma sleeve to the air for Jacqueline Nyakoe.

She wanted to be a doctor. But she couldn’t get into college for it in Kenya, until someone told her of nurse training. "I looked at it as a low-grade job,” she said, thinking that nurses just collected bedpans.

Yet she prayed with her sister for a placement in the school, and when she got in quickly learned that nurses were more than bedpan collectors.

Nyakoe’s sister bought her shoes fit for a professional life, “high heels that they wear in the '60s. I wore them a very long time. I don’t care what people see. I just want to be a nurse. I am Christian, so my heart is full, me who doesn’t have pocket money.”

Soon after earning an associate’s degree and beginning a nursing job, she sought more training in critical care. She and husband Patrick were raising two young children, so while she worked and studied, the baby would be brought to her to breastfeed three times a day during short breaks.

Nyakoe became passionate about nursing.

“What I believed about nursing was not true. It’s all about compassion and serving people who are wounded and going through suffering. Me going through a lot, I knew I could be a blessing to these people,” she said.

“My mom died very young, and I wanted to help people in their sickness and not die prematurely. That is what my passion is, talking to those patients who are heartbroken and seeing them smile after so much depression. It gives me peace.”

Jacqueline Nyakoe's family, including husband Patrick, all wore Lopes gear to Friday morning's Commencement.

The family moved to the U.S. in 2022, and Nyakoe began working at a rural hospital in Texas with dreams of furthering her education with a bachelor’s degree.

But as she began to consider enrolling for online courses at GCU, she had a car accident that set her back $500 and became ill, which led to a $10,000 medical bill. “I thought I will be having a better life, but it is full of loans and debts. So I delayed going to GCU,” she said.

It took another few years, but as her family moved to Corpus Christi, Texas, for better work opportunities, she finally could enroll last year. She quickly began taking double the workload of online classes, she said, while continuing to work.

“Every time they welcome a new class, they say a Bible verse. That is my roots. This is the place I belong,” she said of GCU. “You can speak about God without fear. It gives me comfort. That is what has brought me this far.”

Her sister couldn’t come from Kenya to the ceremony, but Nyakoe’s heart is with the one she calls “mom,” who made it all possible. She will be the only one to earn a college degree in her family and wanted her children to see that example.

“I don’t want them to go through what I went through,” she said. “But things don’t come easy. You have to pray for them.”

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected]

Related content:

GCU News: Exhibiting sheer grit, museum CEO earns doctoral degree

GCU News: Commencement speaker shares a sober 3 Cs of a good life

GCU NewsSwitch in majors speaks volumes for GCU alum

GCU News: Nursing student shares her tragedy and grit with Fostering Futures recipients

GCU News: Alum's story of foster care to Ph.D. inspires Fostering Futures students

GCU NewsOnetime aspiring golfer makes the cut as Commencement speaker

GCU NewsAn inaugural social worker's journey, right into humble service

GCU NewsFirst Barnabas Pastoral Program grads ready to make a difference

GCU NewsMaster’s graduate earns an A in perseverance

GCU NewsCritical Mass hits a high note at Commencement

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,

0 events,

0 events,

2 events,

0 events,

GCU Magazine

Bible Verse

God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

To Read More: www.verseoftheday.com/