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Denise Prado


Denise Prado

Grad Stories (2014)

Veteran Spotlight (2014)

At 18, Denise Prado was making life-changing decisions.

Two months after graduating from Rubidoux High School in 2003, she enlisted in the Army. She survived three tours in Iraq. When she returned home, she decided to enroll at Norco College and major in sociology. On June 12, she and the rest of the 2014 class will participate in the annual graduation ceremony at the College.

Prado will continue her studies at UC Riverside. Ultimately, she hopes to become a counselor for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“I joined the Army out of high school because I wanted to serve my country and travel,” she said. “It turned out to be a very difficult transition for me, leaving my family and the home where I grew up. It was a life-changing decision. However, the Army really helped shape me, and allowed me to become more independent.”

Her last deployment turned out to be the toughest for Prado. Prior to leaving for her third tour in Iraq, she became a mother.

“Deployments had always been nerve wracking for me,” said Prado, who was an automated logistical specialist. “However, to leave my daughter (Azaelah) with my mom (Lena Ortega) was perhaps the toughest thing I ever had to do. Leaving for a war zone, for an extensive period of time, and having a fear of the unknown is indescribable. Obviously, the scariest thing is not knowing if you’ll return home or not.”

Knowing she’d have to provide for her daughter, Prado wasted little time in enrolling at Norco College after she returned home. She wanted to be an example for her child, and to let her know that education is important and that “with everything I’ve done in my life I still managed to return to school.

“Returning to private life from the life I knew in the military was a tough adjustment,” she said. “However, I’ve had a great support system with my mother and my cousin, Ruben Aguilar. They both inspired me to push beyond my limitations. I will be forever grateful to have such positive people in my life.”

Prado said Norco College also deserves a lot of the credit.

“There have been several people who have been instrumental in helping me adapt to my educational demands,” she said. “I will reflect back and be thankful for all the positive role models who have crossed my path. Those who have made an impact on my life and helped me be where I am today in this educational journey. At Norco College, I’ve had the privilege to meet amazing professors and work such friendly staff members. I will truly miss the College.”