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Persevering by means of pandemic hardships, two members of the category of 2022 earn their diplomas


Past pandemic-related classroom instability and digital instruction, faculty and college graduates from the category of 2022 needed to overcome many obstacles.

This commencement season, 1000’s of Los Angeles-area graduates have proudly heard their names learn aloud and walked the stage at graduation ceremonies that some universities have carried out for the primary time for the reason that onset of the pandemic greater than two years in the past.

However whereas commencement season tends to be a hopeful time, members of the category of 2022 are marking their overcome months or years of digital lessons, monetary hardships, sickness and emotional challenges and setbacks.

Kelly Carland, who as UC Irvine’s particular occasions coordinator has overseen many graduations, stated this 12 months’s graduation feels totally different. College students and school alike have appeared towards in-person graduations with a combination of hopefulness and anxiousness that the subsequent COVID surge or another unexpected occasion might upstage the ceremonies.

“I do know these college students have handled so many challenges and needed to overcome a lot,” Carland stated.

For 2 specific graduates this 12 months, incomes a diploma was not only a mark of ending college, however an emblem of perseverance for them and their households.

A father’s final want

Audrie Gomez’s father devoted his life to offering for his household and to his lengthy profession as a upkeep employee at Cal State Northridge.

Audrie, 23, virtually grew up on the campus, the place her dad and mom met. Her father, who labored there for practically twenty years, was nicknamed “Go-Go Gomez,” a tribute to his speediness and work ethic. His co-workers in upkeep had been like Audrie’s uncles.

Her dad and mom, each born in the USA and raised in Mexico, did every thing of their energy to ship their three kids to personal faculties and urged them to go to varsity.

Audrie Gomez, their center little one, graduated from highschool when she was 17, spent one 12 months at Pierce School, then left for the distinguished Parsons Faculty of Design in New York Metropolis. However dwelling in Decrease Manhattan was costly, she didn’t slot in along with her wealthier friends, and Parsons’ business-like tradition made her really feel as if she had taken a 9-to-5 job.

In the future whereas grabbing groceries at Complete Meals and feeling overwhelmed, she referred to as her father.

“I used to be like, ‘Dad, I don’t need to be right here anymore.’” Her father responded, “Go residence, take care and we’ll discuss tomorrow.”

She made her manner again to her house, lugged her groceries upstairs and logged on to her laptop. Within the time it had taken her to get residence, her father had referred to as Cal State Northridge’s admissions division, and an electronic mail accepting her for the autumn semester was sitting in her inbox.

“That was the sort of dad he was,” Gomez stated. “He by no means stated ‘no’ to me. I don’t imply that in an ‘I-got-everything-I-want’ sort of manner, however he all the time made it work.”

At Cal State Northridge, Gomez joined a big cohort of first-generation faculty college students, who account for 60% of the coed physique, in accordance with the college’s fall 2021 enrollment figures. Initially she majored in journalism with an emphasis in public relations. She dreamed of working at Capitol Information and managing P.R. for well-known bands.

Attending lessons on the identical campus the place her dad labored was enjoyable. She recalled her father and his co-workers usually zipping by of their golf carts, yelling out “Good morning” or asking why she was late to class.

When the pandemic struck, Gomez discovered herself taking most lessons from her bed room. After the primary few months of lockdown, Robert Gomez, working then as a workers plumber, was referred to as again to campus at the very least as soon as every week as a vital employee.

As the security steward for his union, he additionally performed a big function in holding his colleagues from contracting COVID-19, stated Jason Wang, Gomez’s supervisor.

“He made positive everybody received residence with their colleges intact and actually appeared out for everybody,” Wang stated. “He cared deeply concerning the campus and the scholars.”

As Gomez continued his work holding services operating on campus, digital lessons had been tough for Audrie. One semester, the stress of COVID took a heavy hit on her grades.

Then, two weeks earlier than the beginning of her senior 12 months, her father was identified with aggressive stage 4 abdomen most cancers. His dream was to make it to the spring commencement ceremony, however on March 30, halfway by means of his daughter’s last semester, Robert Gomez died at residence.

Amid the tragedy, Audrie Gomez discovered the power to make it by means of the ultimate two months of her senior 12 months.

She appeared to her mom, who gave her inspiration to maintain transferring, and considered her father’s nickname. Anytime she felt anxious or like her world was ending, she would suppose, “You’re a Gomez, you simply should go, like ‘Go-Go Gomez.’”

On commencement day, Might 22, kin stuffed her home, showering her with congratulations and questions concerning the future. As Gomez stepped into her yard the morning earlier than the ceremony, one of many acquainted white butterflies that she usually watched, however by no means touched, was again. After a number of flutters across the yard, it got here shut and landed on her nostril. It felt like her father was saying, “I’m right here for you,” Gomez stated.

When she received prepared to depart the home for the ceremony, she felt like she was leaving her father behind. However taking these exhausting steps ahead meant attending to see her father’s final want to the tip.

“It meant every thing to me, to have the ability to give him that, and provides myself that,” Gomez stated.

Winding path to commencement

For years, graduating from highschool, not to mention college, felt like a far-off purpose for Andrew Norman.

On June 11, the 29-year-old walked in a graduation ceremony for the primary time, after two battles with most cancers and a winding path to commencement. He earned his bachelor’s diploma in psychological science from UC Irvine.

“For those who had been to inform me 4 years in the past that I’d go to UCI and have graduated, I wouldn’t have believed you, there’s simply no manner,” Norman stated.

Norman, who was raised in La Habra because the youngest of 9, recalled an early childhood of taking part in out of doors video games and tussling together with his siblings. That modified at age 8 when he was identified with leukemia.

From then till he was 13, Norman was homeschooled, refrained from contact sports activities whereas his associates and siblings performed outdoors. Remedies continued to maintain the most cancers at bay throughout his early teenage years.

As he entered public highschool, he recalled experiencing “chemo mind,” a aspect impact from most cancers therapy identified to provide sufferers psychological cloudiness and reminiscence issues. Whereas its actual causes are unknown, in accordance with the American Most cancers Society, its signs can final years.

Norman had hassle with math and studying comprehension. By the tip of his freshman 12 months, he was failing most of his lessons.

Feeling a nagging sense that his friends knew he was struggling, he took on the function of sophistication clown, Norman recalled.

“As a result of everybody knew I used to be doing poorly at school, I felt like I needed to convey one thing to the desk,” Norman stated. “And if it wasn’t my smarts, it might be making individuals snicker.”

After his sophomore 12 months, he dropped out of highschool altogether, receding right into a world of 16-hour days taking part in video video games like “World of Warcraft” or “Halo.” Two years later, he watched his associates graduate from highschool as he cheered from the sidelines.

In the future, when he was 18, Norman felt a definite ache in his aspect. He appeared at his mom and stated, “It’s again.”

An emergency room go to and blood exams confirmed that the most cancers had returned. This time round, he was decided to maneuver rapidly.

“My motto I took for that entire therapy was ‘Problem accepted,’” Norman stated.

He went after his most cancers head-on, sitting for chemotherapy therapies that may final 24 hours at a time and spending lengthy days driving forwards and backwards to the hospital together with his mom.

Patti Norman stated that three-year interval was a “turning level” for her son. Whereas he battled most cancers a second time, Andrew continued to obtain therapies at Kids’s Hospital Los Angeles alongside younger children.

“He was virtually like a task mannequin to them,” his mom stated. “He was older and seeing what he had gone by means of at that age.”

After the most cancers receded, Andrew Norman stated he felt a “totally different outlook” on life. He earned his GED and commenced taking psychology lessons at Fullerton School.

“I didn’t actually care about cash or standing, it was identical to, the entire purpose I need to be right here is to assist individuals,” Norman stated.

By spring 2020, he had graduated from neighborhood faculty, however the pandemic thwarted an in-person graduation. As a substitute, his fiancee, Jessica Jaramillo, deliberate a miniature ceremony, inviting family and friends and delivering a graduation speech herself.

Afterward, he transferred to UC Irvine and spent a lot of his time in digital lessons that he attended from his dad and mom’ storage, which had been transformed right into a studio house, whereas his fiancee, a fifth-grade trainer with L.A. Unified, taught lessons from the identical room.

Norman imagined that commencement would really feel like being a university soccer participant ready to be drafted to the NFL and having that magical second if you hear your identify referred to as.

“I’ve labored so exhausting for it and I’ve needed it for therefore lengthy,” Norman stated.

Now, Norman has lastly had his NFL draft second. Through the graduation ceremony for UC Irvine’s Faculty of Social Ecology he sat between the neat rows of undergraduates clad in black robes, blue-and-gold stoles shining underneath the lights of college’s basketball enviornment.

As he rose to stroll, his eyes had been fastened on the stage, undistracted by a cellphone display screen or name-calling card. He walked slowly throughout the stage and, grinning, pumped his fist within the air a few occasions earlier than heading down the steps to renew his spot among the many new graduates.

After the ceremony, he left the sector and embraced his mother, finest pal, sisters and fiancee.

“We did it,” Norman stated, hugging his mom. Patti Norman smiled at him, her eyes glassy.



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