‘Quitting was not an option’: Tanaya Shepherd says she balanced work and home responsibilities to earn degree

Tanaya Shepherd smiling.

Friday is a huge day for Tanaya Shepherd.

It’s not only the day when the 44-year-old single mother will graduate from Grand Rapids Community College, it’s also the very first time Shepherd will step foot on campus.

“If you’re a busy person like I am, and you don’t want to do the whole classroom thing, online is the way to go,” Shepherd said. “I earned my GRCC degree completely online: classes, books, counseling – everything.”

That’s not saying it was easy.

Shepherd had dreamed for years of pursuing a college degree. But with four growing children — and their schools, hobbies and sports — plus a full-time job as a life coach at Hope Network in Grand Rapids, time was one thing Shepherd couldn’t spare.

Inspired by her mother, Yolanda Johnson, who’d recently earned her master’s degree, Shepherd knew she needed to follow her dream.

“I needed something else,” she said. “I’m never a person to be content staying where they are.”

Shepherd was able to balance all her responsibilities by taking classes part-time and strictly online.

“I know some people need to be in a classroom, and that’s OK,” she said. “But for me and my schedule, online classes was the way to go.”

Time management was key.

Shepherd took no more than two courses each semester. After working all day and between ferrying her children to school, cheerleading, band or basketball practices, she studied evenings in a makeshift office upstairs in her Kentwood home.

“All the kids knew that when I said I needed to do my homework, they needed to let me concentrate,” she said. “They were great.”

Although she originally planned to earn a juvenile criminal justice degree at GRCC, she eventually chose to avoid the required math courses. Instead, she earned an Addiction Studies Certificate as a certified peer recovery mentor and will receive a General Studies Associate Degree on Friday.

Although she enjoyed her classwork, Shepherd has no plans to earn a bachelor’s degree. Now her goal is to help the Grand Rapids community in whatever way she can.

And on Friday? There’ll be a whole cheering section on campus at commencement watching her accept her GRCC degree.

“Honestly, I thought I was just too old to go back to school,” she said. “But my family and friends and coworkers were behind me all the way.

“Quitting was not an option.”

This story was reported by Beth McKenna.

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