Celebrating - a year later

2020 graduates return to celebrate with special in-person commencement.

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Katie Dixon '20 takes part in the commencement for the class of 2020 held May 15, 2021, at the Ventura County Fairgrounds.

Photo: Brian Stethem ’84

Almost a year after the pandemic shut down most activities for Cal Lutheran students, the Class of 2020 finally got the in-person graduation experience during a unique drive-in ceremony held May 15 at the Ventura County Fairgrounds.   

With decorated masks on, and elbow bumps replacing handshakes, almost 300 alumni from 2020 returned to celebrate at the ceremony, where family members and friends cheered them on from vehicles parked around the elevated center stage. The university originally honored the graduates who earned bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees during virtual ceremonies in May 2020.

“This might be the most special of the three commencements that were held over the last week since all of you have waited more than a full year for this (in-person) moment,” Cal Lutheran President Lori E. Varlotta told the graduates during what she called a “special and highly unconventional ceremony.”

“It was heartbreaking to think that you might not get the opportunity to experience the thrill and the pride of walking across a graduation stage like this one. Therefore, I’m elated that you will get to have that experience, even though it’s a little late,” she said.

Varlotta said earning a college degree is an impressive feat under normal circumstances, but earning it in 2020 was extraordinary due to the pandemic.

“It’s almost like you earned one degree in your field of study and a second honorary degree in navigating the unknown,” she said.

Aracely Fox, MEd ’03, EdD '20 recalled during her speech not knowing last year if doctoral candidates like herself would get the same hooding by their professors as previous generations did.

Fox said that, regardless, she made sure to celebrate last year with her family, including her parents “who during my childhood had toiled day in and day out in the fields picking the crops of the season in hopes that they would be able to provide their children opportunities that they never had.”

Undergraduate speaker Francheska Nicole Tanglao ’20 noted that she was giving two commencement speeches to the same graduating class a year apart, providing her with the perspective of looking back at what she wrote in 2020.

In a new speech, Tanglao, who received her degree in psychology, said the class had post-graduation experiences that are not mentioned at most commencements, such as job rejections. However, she said the past year taught them to overcome odds.  

“By no means is life’s path going to be a smooth one with so many unknowns that we cannot account for. But we are graduates of Cal Lutheran and, knowing this, I have no doubt in my mind that we are all destined for greatness,” Tanglao said.

When the name of graduate Jacqueline Licoscos ’20 was called, her family cheered from its car, which was decorated with celebratory words and balloons.

“I’m just happy that we’re here and able to do something like this even if it’s not fully back to normal. It’s something, and I’m happy for that,” said Licoscos, who graduated with a degree in criminology and criminal justice, and will be studying forensic science as a graduate student at University of California, Davis.

Michele Willer-Allred is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the Ventura County Star, Malibu Surfside News and Central Coast Farm & Ranch magazine. She lives in Moorpark, California.

CLU Magazine