Sisters Marlyn and Jassel Vargas stood in line June 13 for their official portraits after receiving their Bachelor of Social Work degrees on stage at La Sierra University. It was the bright culmination of a year of steep personal challenges amidst a devastating pandemic.
Waiting to enter the photographer’s kiosk, Marlyn noted, “I don’t think it has hit me yet, but I probably will be crying later. Honestly, I’m extremely happy that this day finally came after many years.”
She and Jassel each achieved advanced standing in the Master of Social Work program at Loma Linda University, where they will next pursue their goals. Their achievements are particularly meaningful in light of their family’s struggles, which involved a kidney transplant during spring quarter for Marlyn while she was completing an internship.
“All the hard work and all the challenges—it just proved that if we can do it, a lot of people can do it,” said Jassel.
The Vargas sisters were among 506 students who completed their degrees following a stressful 15 months of campus shut down and Zoom-based studies due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Of the graduates, 321 opted to participate in the university’s drive-through graduation, held in keeping with public health protocol while providing a memorable experience for grads and their guests.
With excited family and friends often crowded into backs of trucks, inside SUVs, cars, buses and limos, seniors paraded into campus, their vehicles decked out in balloons, banners, flags, and other décor. As they traveled slowly along, they received gifts at kiosks and were cheered by sign-waving faculty, many dressed in regalia. The vehicles stopped in front of a commencement stage headed by a bank of yellow and dark purple flowers in the shape of “2021” and flanked by a jumbotron, allowing maximum viewing of the event’s high point. As organ renditions of “Pomp and Circumstance,” “Star Wars” marching themes, and other tunes played on loudspeakers, graduates exited their vehicles to walk on stage and receive their diploma holders, along with congratulations from university administration.
As Amy Miller, an incoming Redlands Adventist Academy teacher, walked toward the stage for her degree, her mother, Mar Miller, cheered from her place among family members seated in the back of a truck: “She’s got her master’s degree in education and she’s out to change the world.”
By Darla Martin Tucker