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La Verne community reunites at graduation drive-up event

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Tiffany De Leon, Title III grant program coordinator, and Jazmin Alvarez Barragan, coordinator of student operations, show their Leo spirit by cheering for University of La Verne graduates passing by in their cars during the grad box pick-up parade Saturday. It was the first of two such events in which graduating students received gift boxes and took cap and gown photos in preparation for the University’s virtual commencement ceremony May 29. / photo by Emily Alvarez

Tiffany De Leon, Title III grant program coordinator, and Jazmin Alvarez Barragan, coordinator of student operations, show their Leo spirit by cheering for University of La Verne graduates passing by in their cars during the grad box pick-up parade Saturday. It was the first of two such events in which graduating students received gift boxes and took cap and gown photos in preparation for the University’s virtual commencement ceremony May 29. / photo by Emily Alvarez

Jaydelle Herbert
Staff Writer

The spring commencement coordinators hosted an in-person Grad Box Pick-Up parade at the University of La Verne campus Saturday, where graduating seniors received their graduation gift boxes and took pictures in their caps and gowns.

A parade of 255 graduating seniors and their families from all University of La Verne campuses wound their way through in their cars. This was believed to be the first event held on the central campus, aside from admission tours, since the start of the pandemic, according to Adam Wong, assistant dean for student engagement. He organized the event with Veronica Ashcroft, director of university scheduling, events and commencement services.

At the beginning of the event, decorative cars with graduation balloons and signs reading “Congrats to our 2021 Grad” started on Third Street, went through the Ortmayer Stadium parking lot and ended on B Street.

While Amanda Miller, director of academic and career advising, was checking in graduating seniors to receive their graduation gift box, Julissa Espinoza, director of community engagement, gave students informational pamphlets on the Grad Drive-Thru event with information about how to order Class of 2021 commemorative clothing and graduation accessories.

As cars turned on to C Street between Sneaky Park and Miller Hall, graduating seniors’ names, majors and degrees were announced by Mike Laponis, professor of communications. Faculty volunteers handed the students their graduation gift boxes, which included a diploma cover, alumni license plate and champagne glass.

Throughout the event graduating seniors were congratulated by faculty and staff from across the University. President Devorah Lieberman also attended and took pictures with graduating students.

At the end of the graduation parade, students and their families parked their cars and walked to the top floor of the parking structure to take pictures on one of three graduation stages built for photos.

Reyna Olmos Melendez, senior child development major, attended the event to share her accomplishment of graduating with her family.

“I love having my kids here to share this moment with me. I am the first of my generation of four sisters to graduate from college and the fifth person in my family to graduate,” Melendez said.

She said the graduation stage has a deeper meaning to her.

“I got very emotional taking pictures on the graduation stage. I know it’s not the traditional stage but it’s still our stage and it represents our experience of what we have gone through,” Melendez said.

Wong said face masks, social distancing in lines and the graduation stages, having students and their families stay in their car during the parade, and providing hand sanitizers in different locations were the COVID-19 safety guidelines placed throughout the event.

Students and their families were allowed to take off their masks while they took pictures on the graduation stage.

“Once they were done taking pictures, the students and their families were supposed to put their masks back on. We were enforcing wearing masks,” Ashcroft said.

Bridget Hurtado, graduate student in the educational counseling master’s program, said the event resonated with her in an unconventional way.

“I feel like the car drive-thru represents the journey we went through in college because we started from the beginning, having those feelings of emotion and ended the journey by taking the graduation pictures on the stage,” Hurtado said.

Hurtado’s eyes filled with tears as she became emotional about what it means to her to have parents at the parade.

“As a first generation student, my parents didn’t make it past elementary school. So for them to see me with my cap and gown and making it to a master’s level is ecstatic. I don’t have enough words to explain the emotion I feel having my family here with me today,” she said.

“Even though I’m not walking today but they are here today through that journey of driving through the University, decorating the car, taking pictures. This was the first time my parents ever went to the University and I got to include them physically in this journey and show them this is where I spend my late nights studying,” Hurtado said.

Beau Daoust, senior computer science major, and Tanner Rogers, senior criminology major, are friends who met while living on campus during their freshman year.

Both said although it hasn’t hit them that they will be graduating in a month due to the stress of finals week, they are deeply saddened by the reality of being on the University’s campus for the last time.

“It’s pretty sad because I really like the campus itself and I have always liked being on campus,” Daoust said. The fact that we couldn’t really be here for the past year and a half or so is sad. I hope this isn’t the last time I come here. Maybe I’ll come back to visit.”

“It’s definitely sad. I have been here all four years and met some really nice people. It’s been a long experience but a really fun, enjoyable one. It’s sad to see it all come to a close,” Rogers said.

Daoust and Rogers agreed that building connections at the University is the most memorable aspect from attending the University.

“The real graduation was the friends we made along the way,” Daoust said.

Melendez, who said she will attend the in-person commencement ceremony on June 12 at San Manuel Stadium in San Bernardino, said making a decision between which family members she wants to attend her graduation saddens her.

“Unfortunately we are only allowed to bring two guests and with having four children, I didn’t want any of my children’s feelings to get hurt if I had to choose one. So I had to choose my sister and my husband of 34 years,” Melendez said.

Ashcroft said the commencement coordinators are waiting to see how many students are planning to participate in the June in-person commencement ceremony and will see if they can add more guest tickets for students.

“We understand students’ concerns over choosing family members and having two tickets is hard. We are basing it on how many participants we receive on our deadline of May 23 and we will be looking at the number of people who can be at the venue, COVID regulations first to see if we can jump the number of guests to three or four,” Ashcroft said.

She also said that if graduating seniors don’t fill out a participation form by Sunday for the June 12 commencement ceremony, they can’t be a part of the ceremony.

A second Grad Box Pick-Up event is scheduled for Sunday.

Jaydelle Herbert can be reached at jaydelle.herbert@laverne.edu.

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