It’s never too late to pursue your dream: Clovis Community College commencement speaker Arva Parker inspires others

Clovis Community commencement speakerPhoto contributed
Arva Parker, 38, is one of Clovis Community College’s distinguished graduates and will be speaking at the first Clovis Community College commencement ceremony on May 20.

By Valerie Shelton, Editor

Arva Parker, 38, had a rough start. At just 16, Parker welcomed her first child into the world and whatever plans she had for higher education seemingly vanished as her sole priority became caring for her son. Living in southern California, Parker put herself through cosmetology courses and became a hairdresser, and after meeting husband Vincent Parker, was able to provide for three young children.

In 2002, the family moved to the Clovis area and after her children were older, Arva says her husband encouraged her to go back to school and, despite the financial struggle of putting herself and her son through school, she said she is grateful now to reach the milestone of graduating from college. As a bonus, Parker and her son Robert Johnson III are graduating from Clovis Community College together.

“I knew I wanted to go back to school so I tried several times but the kids were so young it was just too difficult but I didn’t give up,” Parker said. “It was a push from my husband that got me here. He said just go because we really needed to income to continue to raise our children so I stepped out and I went to school and it has been tough but I’ve done it and my son and I, all of us, sit in the living room, staying up all night doing homework. It has been quite a journey but a good one. Now we’re completing this phase of our education and we’re just so grateful.”

Parker is being honored as one of Clovis Community College’s distinguished graduates and will be speaking at the commencement ceremony. She said she hopes to inspire students and their family members in the audience to never give up on their dreams.

“I’m grateful to be able to share with those family members who are coming in and to encourage not only the graduates but anybody who may be feeling kind of dull in life, feeling like they haven’t fully stepped into the things they are supposed to be doing, letting dreams fall asleep and different ambitions that they have doubts about go, to be able to share that there is opportunity for them as well to persevere and complete their mission in life.”

Parker said she has had a wonderful experience at Clovis Community College. In addition to taking classes to earn her associates in psychology, with a minor in business, Parker has worked as a part-time student aide in the counseling center. It was there she learned both she and her son have a learning disability and they were able to get help for it.

Originally, Parker’s son went to Fresno State but was having trouble passing university level mathematics. Parker also has struggled with mathematics and at the Clovis Community College counseling center, she learned that those who struggle in a particular subject might have a learning disability. She took a test that indicated she did in fact have an issue processing mathematics. When her son couldn’t pass the course at Fresno State, Parker encouraged him to come to Clovis Community to get the assistance he needed. After a few tries, Parker said he finally passed mathematics and will be returning to Fresno State next semester to finish his Bachelor’s degree in communications.

Such support is what has made Parker’s experience at Clovis Community College exceptional.

“I am honored just to the depths of my soul [to speak at the commencement] because I know what Clovis Community has done for me as a student, as a mother, as a wife, as a friend,” Parker said. “They have completely surrounded me with support and so my heart is so transparent and pure about representing them and sharing the truth of who they’ve been for me as a student.”

Parker said she is particular grateful for the following faculty members and professors: Ralph Munoz, Jon McPhee, Michael Weatherly and Frank Luna.

“These are amazing people who have the heart to believe,” Parker said, fighting back tears. “It wasn’t a profession for them, it was giving life. Even if you weren’t passionate about that subject matter, they were there to help you move forward in whatever you were doing. Those people snagged my heart. They bring up such a stirring in my heart. Those are my heroes.”

It was her work in the counseling center and the motivation from the above professors that solidified Parker’s decision to continue her education after graduation and to pursue a career in social work.

Next year, Parker will be attending Fresno Pacific University to complete a Bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in business. She then plans to pursue a Master’s degree in social work.

Parker said she wants to be a social worker to help others.

“I have a passion for people and helping people and encouraging people and getting them on the path that will help them to move forward and really help them to provoke a mindset that helps them to understand there is actually nothing that can hold them back from fulfilling their purpose on this earth,” Parker said. “That is my heart and that is probably why I’m tested with so much opposition because you have to have compassion and sometimes if you haven’t touched certain experiences in life, you are just faced with someone else’s challenge but don’t really have the compassion so the journey I’ve been blessed and graced to live has really provoked compassion for me in people of every kind. I’m honored to have walked this path.”

In addition to navigating young motherhood, Parker has struggled with finances and has battled against being misunderstood.

“I just faced opposition; if it wasn’t trying to afford books it was trying to buy school clothes and thinking, well we have to eat and we have to pay for gas and we have all the overhead and responsibilities,” Parker said. “It is a great financial sacrifice when you have to do [go back to school] but I know that the lives I have to help mean more to me than whatever I have to go through now to do it. It started with my husband and my children. They’ve been my case study of selflessness, sacrifice and support and I’m willing to do what I have to do to help other people.”

Whatever hardships someone may have to endure, Parker said she believes everyone has a bigger purpose to fulfill that goes beyond themselves.

“In this life, there is something very special for you to do and you have to get quiet and get some clear understanding of who you are and why you’re here and what you have to do,” Parker said. “Whatever you have to do, do it and understand it is bigger than you; it is always for someone else. It starts with you but it is about your neighbor, your brother, and your sister. I believe that mentality is essential for us to really understand what a quality of life is.”

Parker currently lives in Clovis with husband Vincent Parker, son Robert Johnson III and daughters Ariel Parker and Angel Parker. Vincent works as a train conductor. Ariel attends Clovis North High School and Angel attends Copper Hills Elementary.