On April 13, along with hundreds of other students, 36-year-old Karly Perez graduated from BYU PathwayConnect and BYU-Idaho, receiving a bachelor’s degree in university studies with a minor in public health.

It had been a long road to graduation, and she brought uniqueness to BYU-I campus—she is not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Perez grew up in Southern California, where she resides with her husband of nine years, and her young daughters, ages 2, 4 and 6. She was raised by two members of the Church, but since they were less active, she knew very little about the Church growing up.

She graduated with an associate’s degree in occupational therapy in 2009 from Santa Ana College. Ever since, she has worked as an occupational therapist, at the same facility she interned while still a student.

She loves her job, but she questioned the job security in her current career.

“My whole point of going back to school is because I knew that if I didn’t want to be a therapist anymore, I had to at least have my bachelor’s in something,” Perez said. “I just kind of wanted that self-satisfaction.”

The answer to her questions took several years to formulate, but the wait turned out to be worth it. In 2014, a friend of Perez’s recommended PathwayConnect.

According to the BYU Pathway Worldwide website, students who complete PathwayConnect can earn online certificates or degrees from BYU-I. Then they can apply for other universities or get better jobs.

Dana Moore was studying through BYU-Pathway Worldwide and found success in its methods. However, at the time, the Pathway program only admitted members of the Church, and while the missionaries were eager to give her a fast solution to the issue—by being baptized as a member—she made the quick decision to not pursue it at that point.

About a year later, Pathway started a pilot program allowing those who were not Latter-day Saints to take courses online, which opened the door for Perez. “See, this is your sign—you should do it,” her mother told her.

But due to giving birth the week that school was supposed to start and dealing with a newborn, Perez did not register for another year.

She had attended several colleges in former years, having many transferable credits. She entered the Pathway program as a senior and took nine classes over the course of her two online semesters. She traveled to the Church’s institute building in Riverside, California, where she met with her class filled with other Pathway students.

She feared being the oldest in her class and what it would mean being the only non-Latter-day Saint. But the class welcomed her with open arms, and she grew to love her classmates and the interactions she had with them as they learned together.

“I didn’t feel weird…my classmates would go, ‘We’ve heard about people like you; now we finally get to meet you,'” Perez said. Her participation inspired her classmates and helped them become “better Mormons,” for they sought out more knowledge in order to answer her doctrinal questions.

In her courses, she grew to understand and to love the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

“I had no religious background…I think that was the coolest part; being able to learn about the Book of Mormon and all of that,” Perez said. “Actually sitting there, thinking about and reading scriptures and interpreting what I thought it meant to me—I think that was the coolest thing.”

She met with several sets of missionaries and continues to do so as she works toward becoming a baptized member of the Church. “I think I’m ready,” Perez said.

One experience she recalls was a night that she was taking an extremely difficult test for what seemed like hours, feeling stressed and overwhelmed. Her husband came in the room, saying that the missionaries were there.

“I don’t have time for them,” she said.

She relented and let them in, and after telling them about her current struggle, the elders asked if they could pray for her. She responded with a firm yes, and they said a prayer with her and her family before leaving their home.

She went back to take her test, and she finished it within minutes. She scored a 100 percent.

“They came just when I needed the help,” Perez said.

Her busy schedule, compiled of work, school and family life, brought its challenges but her overall opinion shone through her sheer optimism and excitement about the Pathway program.

“Even when I felt like it wasn’t achievable, and it hurt, I still pushed through,” Perez said.

Because of her hardworking dedication, she became one of the very first non-Latter-day Saints to graduate from BYU-Pathway.

“I recommend it for everybody…I don’t know why people wouldn’t do it that way,” Perez said.

She emphasized the flexibility that she enjoyed as a full-time employee and full-time mother, being able to take classes from the comforts of her own home and travel only short distances class gatherings.

The PathwayConnect Program now welcomes students from all around the world, promoting higher education for all who seek it.