When Condoa Parrent was 8 years old, her paternal grandfather died and left money for her to go to college.
"He was the only one in my family who ever even mentioned college as a future possibility for me," Parrent says.
However, her grandfather's wish for her did not come true until she was a grown woman with two young children and had risen above a destructive marriage and paralyzing low self-esteem.
Now, Parrent ('97, '99 M.S., '07 Ed.D.) counsels and encourages students as vice president of student services at North Central Texas College in Gainesville. Her joy in the job is apparent.
"I've been able to do for students as others have done for me, in helping to give them the strength, emotionally and financially, to continue their education," she says. "One young woman I counseled called me when she was on the way to the hospital to deliver her first baby. I couldn't believe she actually thought about me at a time like that."
A hard road
It's been a long, hard road for Parrent to get to the place she is now. In 1979, she left Gainesville High School after 10th grade because of family problems. She married at 17, and later had two daughters, Nicole and Lindsey.
Her job as a nurse's aide paid barely minimum wage, but since no one in her family had ever graduated from high school, much less college, she thought this was the path her life should take.
Her marriage and her life took an unexpected turn when her husband went to prison for two years on drug charges.
"I went to work for a chiropractor, and realized I could support myself and my children," Parrent says. "When he got out of prison, I had changed. But he had not."
Finally, their tumultuous 11-year marriage ended, and she met her current husband, Jackie.
"Jackie encouraged me to go back to school," Parrent says. "He helped me realize that I was smart, capable and worth something."
Help and motivation
At 29 years old and more than a decade after she left high school, Parrent made her way to North Central Texas College in Gainesville to take her G.E.D. in spring 1992. She was surprised and encouraged that she passed the test the first time. Still, the money her grandfather left her had long since been spent on necessities and she could not imagine how she could afford the cost of college-level courses.
With guidance from UNT alums Sharon Steele-Blakeman ('85, '91 M.Ed.) and Emily Klement ('92, '94 M.Ed.) at NCTC, Parrent filled out financial aid forms and received grants and scholarships to pay for classes.
In the summer of 1992, she enrolled in her first session at NCTC and got a job as a work-study student in the NCTC Counseling and Testing Center. Motivated by the pain and hardships of her marriage to a drug addict, she wanted to be a counselor.
"I wanted to try to understand why someone would choose drugs over their family," Parrent says.
In 1994, she earned her first degree, an associate degree in secretarial science, while she worked full time in the registrar's office. Another UNT alum, Robert Adams ('92, '94 M.S.), who had worked with Parrent in the counseling and testing center, encouraged her to continue her education and fulfill her dream of becoming a counselor by attending UNT.
"It took everything I had to drive to Denton and walk on to the UNT campus," Parrent says. "I was literally terrified."
Again, she received financial aid and got up the nerve to take two classes in the counseling program.
"I fell in love with counseling," Parrent says. "It was like I'd finally found myself and my reason for being."
A better life
Parrent continued working in the NCTC registrar's office in Gainesville while taking classes in Denton.
"It's harder to go to school with a family, but it can be done," she says. "You have to juggle more and you have to get help. Wanting to be able to give my children a better life gave me the energy to keep going."
In 1997, she became the first university graduate in her family when she received her bachelor's degree in counseling education.* She also was promoted to a para-professional position in the registrar's office.
Going on to earn her master's degree was less scary, she says, but still very important since it was a necessary step to becoming a counselor.
"My professor of educational psychology, Tommie Lawhon, made me think about life and made me ask myself questions about making choices as a woman," Parrent says. "I realized for the first time that it's not so much about understanding your past as it is about understanding your future."
In 1999, Parrent earned her master's degree in rehabilitation counseling and was promoted to registrar and director of admissions at NCTC. In 2004, she was named dean of students and later became vice president of student services. She was awarded her doctor of education degree from UNT in 2007.
"I am very proud of Condoa," Adams says. "G.E.D., A.S., B.S., M.S. and Ed.D. — isn't she something?"
Klement, now dean of NCTC's Bowie campus, says Parrent's success has provided hope for others.
"With hard work and tenacity, Condoa changed her life through education," she says. "She has guided many others through her example and compassionate heart."
Although Parrent is clearly proud of her education and career accomplishments, it's almost impossible for her to contain her excitement when she speaks of her newest title — grandmother.
She says UNT helped save her life, and her education changed her whole view of who she is and who she can be.
"People have come up to me in Walmart and thanked me for being an example," she says. "It brings tears to my eyes. I know my grandfather would be proud."
*Editors note: Condoa's major was in counseling associate studies, an undergraduate program that is now available only as a minor. The state of Texas requires a master's degree in order to be a counselor.