Walking the stage at the University of Arizona Global Campus (UAGC) Spring 2022 commencement ceremony was a moment Chandi Duran had been waiting for since she graduated from high school — not just since she completed her project management degree in January 2020. Her plans to attend commencement that year were derailed due to COVID-19, and it wasn’t the first time Chandi had wanted to walk the stage and couldn’t.
“I was a teen mother, and three days after having my son via C-section was my high school graduation,” she explains. “I was not able to attend. For years, anytime I heard ‘Pomp and Circumstance,’ I wept.”
Chandi’s pinnacle moment finally came in May 2022 when she joined the UAGC Spring Class of 2022 at the McHale Memorial Center in Tucson, Arizona, where UAGC held its first in-person ceremony on the University of Arizona campus.
Like many events in her life, getting to celebrate this moment was about patience, persistence, and determination.
Chandi grew up in Colorado Springs, Colorado, but her family moved around a bit, which meant she attended a few different schools. She also missed nearly a full year of elementary school due to a series of health issues she faced as a child including an appendectomy and other issues doctors couldn’t quite pinpoint at the time. As a result, she says she didn’t get the educational foundation many kids did.
“I didn’t read well at all,” she remembers. “I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I just thought I was dumb.”
Chandi would discover later there was an underlying condition also attributing to her troubles in school.
When Chandi was a senior in high school, she discovered she was pregnant. Chandi says she got funny looks from people at school, and lost a lot of friends. Fortunately, she had a supportive family, and her sister, who attended the same school, kept her company daily.
Despite her struggles, Chandi enjoyed school. She excelled at accounting and sang in the choir until her pregnancy. She stuck with it thanks to the activities she enjoyed, but graduated high school. Though she was grateful just to be graduating, her doctor would not allow her to attend graduation as she was recovering from a long labor that ended in a C-section just three days prior.
“I don’t know why I didn’t drop out,” she admits. “A lot of people were doing that, and I didn’t.”
A Path Forward
After finishing high school, Chandi attended community college, where she discovered she had dyslexia. She was finally able to put a name to the root of her challenges in school.
“That affects everything,” she confirms.
Though her time in community college was short-lived, college stayed on Chandi’s mind while she went on to work in construction and later as a field service technician. Then, a significant life change propelled her forward.
In 2013, Chandi injured her back on the job, and in 2015, she experienced a second work-related injury to her shoulder. Chandi says she was eventually forced out of her job by her employer as her body was unable to sustain her previous duties. It was time to rethink her future.
“I had always wanted to go to college,” she says. “When I was hurt in the field, I decided I needed to get an education.”
A former boss was attending Ashford University (now UAGC) and told Chandi about his experience. She also discovered that her employer offered a grant opportunity. Drawn to the flexible five-week courses, she enrolled in the BA in project management program.
Empowered with the knowledge of her learning disability, she could seek out the support she needed to succeed, taking advantage of accommodations provided by the Office of Access & Wellness at UAGC.
“Although I did not want to use accommodations for my disability, I needed to for a portion of my degree,” she says. “I still did the work everyone else did. I just had a little extra time to complete assignments.”
Chandi had never experienced getting consistently good grades, but thanks to the support she received, she made it her mission to graduate with honors.
“I worked day and night when I was not at work or sleeping,” she says, adding that her husband made sure her personal needs were met by bringing her food while she completed her coursework.
In January 2020, Chandi completed her degree and graduated Summa Cum Laude, a big change from her high school days.
“It was awesome,” she beams. “I barely graduated high school. Whatever it takes to pass – that’s all I went through there. So when I started getting As, I thought, ‘I can do this.’”
Brain vs Brawn
Chandi says earning her degree has drastically changed her life.
“I went from heavy physical labor working in the elements all day and night long, which took a toll on my body,” she says. “Now I use my brain power more than my brawn.”
Chandi says she has fond memories of her days of physical work, but now she’s happy in life and career. And she has a big job.
“I am a financial analyst for the Colorado Springs Airport, which has a budget of just over $28 million,” she explains. “I’ve always loved numbers and trying to figure things out.”
Chandi is responsible for analyzing data to make recommendations on organizational decisions, and she says there is always something new happening at the airport, which gives her the opportunity to learn.
“At some point, I’m going to shadow the construction manager,” she says. While she already handles the money side of projects, this would allow her to dive deeper into everything that happens at the airport.
Chandi says she is looking forward to learning more throughout her career, eventually retiring, and perhaps taking on some consulting work. She’s grateful to have found a great team, a great boss, and a job she enjoys.
Though she had to wait, Chandi was thrilled to walk the stage this past May at the first in-person commencement ceremony in more than two years and the first since Ashford University became UAGC.
“I kept looking every year,” she admits. “I wanted to walk.”
She was joined in Tucson by a few of her four children and six grandchildren, who she says all supported her during her degree program.
“There were times they would wait for me to get done with my papers, so we could go camping,” she laughs. “They loaded up the camper and did everything.”
The important message Chandi wants others to take away from her story is that no matter your obstacles, you can do it, too.
“I feel that today there are many people changing careers, which requires a college degree, and they are telling themselves they can’t do it,” Chandi says. “Their barriers do not have to hold them back. They can jump over them to get to where they need to go.”
Certain degree programs may not be available in all states.