When Shaqueda Parnell, Pharm. D., walks into work at CVS Pharmacy in Columbia, South Carolina, and someone says, “Good morning, doc!” it takes her a second to realize who they’re talking to.

When she remembers that it’s her — and that at age 27, she’s already realizing so many of her professional and personal goals — she thinks about her education at St. Joan Antida High School (SJA) in Milwaukee.

“I am very satisfied and really happy with where I am in life. Sometimes it seems surreal,” said Parnell, a 2009 graduate of SJA. “I think St. Joan definitely played an immense part in that — making sure I was successful inside and outside of school.”

Like Parnell, other Catholic high school graduates are also more likely than their public school-educated peers to be awarded college scholarships, to achieve bachelor’s, masters and doctoral degrees and to experience satisfaction with their post-graduate life, according to a research study conducted on behalf of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

Like a lot of other Catholic high school graduates, Parnell’s path to success really began with her supportive family. It was while her mother Shalanda Jenkins was attending Alverno College during Parnell’s middle school years that the family became acquainted with the reputation of SJA.

“While she was at Alverno, she learned more about the teaching style and opportunities that would be available for me if I attended St. Joan,” said Parnell.

Even though she had her reservations about the kind of diversity she would find at an all-girls Catholic high school, the reality of the culture at the school was “the opposite of what I was expecting.”

“The diversity was unreal from what I expected,” she said. “When I heard what school I was going to be attending. I thought, ‘I’m going to this all-girl Catholic high school, I don’t know how this is going to be.’ But I get there and I see people of all shapes and sizes and races and ethnic backgrounds. You start to build relationships with other people, you start to learn about their cultures, and you get a greater appreciation for life.”

According to the research study, other Catholic high school graduates agreed that their experience in high school broadened their worldview and capacity for inclusion.  According to the study, graduates identified greater instances of learning life values like inclusiveness (3.6 vs. 2.6 when compared to public school graduates, on a five-point scale), unity (3.8 vs. 2.7) and respect (4.2 vs. 3.2).

While at SJA, Parnell was exposed to different partner organizations with whom the school collaborates. It was while working for PEARLS for Teen Girls, a leadership development program for young women, that she became acquainted with Benedict College in Columbia.

Working closely with her guidance counselor, Parnell applied to 12 colleges, including Benedict. She was accepted to all 12, and received a full-ride scholarship to Benedict.

“My guidance counselor (at St. Joan Antida) was by my side the entire way,” she said. “I’m sure I was one of her most annoying students, because I was in her office all the time — I was like, ‘what about this one, what about that one?’ Add she was like, ‘well, if you’re gonna do it, go ahead.’ It was just rewarding because when you get an acceptance letter, you run to the guidance counselor and she posts a copy on the wall in the hallway. That was just an awesome experience, to see that she was there for me. She wrote my letters of recommendation, she helped me with my resume, she read my personal statement. I went to her office many, many times and she was OK with it, she was there for me, pushing me along the way, encouraging me to continue to apply to more schools and more scholarships.”

While at Benedict College, she majored in biology with a double minor in chemistry and criminal justice. She worked as a student researcher and was a member of the Phi Beta Lambda Business Fraternity and the Beta Kappa Chi National Scientific Honor Society, graduating in 2013. In 2018, she achieved a Doctorate of Pharmacy and Masters of Business Administration degree from South University. She has worked for CVS since 2013 and in January became the pharmacy manager.

As a retail pharmacist, she said she enjoys her work on the front lines of community medicine.

“It really involves service to the community, because a lot of people take medicine and don’t know what it’s for, or they take medicine and they’re taking it the wrong way. They just are not in tune with how it’s going to benefit them — so a lot of them say, ‘I’m not going to take it at all,’” she said. “It’s just really rewarding to be that person to bridge the gap between the science and the community. I can explain it in a way that I don’t have to use these big terms but I still want you to understand how important it is for your health.”

But the biggest reward of all is when her 5-year-old daughter Leah says that “she wants to be a doctor like mommy.”

And it’s still hard for her to believe that she’s reaching her dreams before the age of 30.