COVID-19 threw many college students quite a curve ball. Not only did they have to adjust from attending in-person courses to remote learning during a global pandemic, but for soon-to-be graduates it led to their highly anticipated graduation ceremonies being cancelled.
For Bernie, a former graduate of and now Chaser® for, Learning Works Charter School, it was no different. Expressing how disappointed she was after working so hard to attain her degree and not being able to walk across stage to receive her diploma, GIVE-MENTOR-LOVE and Learning works teamed up to surprise her with a special ceremony just for her.
On the morning of what was supposed to be her graduation day in March, Bernie and her family arrived at Learning Works in Pasadena knowing little of what the day had in store.
To their surprise, they were greeted by a celebration complete with a stage set up, TV screen display, refreshments and gifts to celebrate and congratulate her on her big accomplishment.
Bernie walked across the stage adorned in her graduation cap and gown, had her photo and degree displayed on screen for all to see and received her diploma with friends and family cheering and applauding – the college graduation experience she always dreamed of.
When asked about what this accomplishment meant to her, Bernie shared with us:
“Since I finished my last class my coworker has asked multiple times, ‘So, when are we hanging that diploma on the wall?’ It still hasn’t hit me and I’m not really sure what I am supposed to feel, but I am glad I have no more homework.
As a child I pretended to be a teacher and sit with my sisters and read to them, or tape a paper to the wall and write out math problems. I enjoyed school, loved reading, but that didn’t last long. I had a rough upbringing and I became so angry. By the time I was 15, I had already been jumped in a gang. I was using drugs and little did I know I would become a mom by the time I turned 16. If someone had told 15 year old me that I would have a Bachelors degree I would have laughed, me, a college grad? High school wasn’t a priority, why would I be thinking of college? But I did finish.
I wish someone believed in me back then like many believed in me finishing this degree. I partly wish I hadn’t gone through the things I did growing up but that would mean many things I cherish now wouldn’t be a part of my life. If I could talk to 15 year old Bernie and tell her something, it would be that I love her and from rock bottom there is only one way to go and that is back up.
This celebration was far beyond anything the normal one would have been. This one made me feel so special and loved. I am so grateful to everyone for this experience.”
The celebration was documented by GIVE-MENTOR-LOVE’s photographer Diana Ramirez, who captured photos of Bernie and her family, plus took graduation photos so she can always remember her achievement and special day.
Bernie graduated from the University of Phoenix Class of 2021 with a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice Administration/Human Services.
Photography by Diana Ramirez
A special thank you to Mike Brown Grandstands for providing the stage set-up for this special ceremony.
GIVE – MENTOR – LOVE is a Foundation of dedicated professionals serving LA County youths and young adults in-crisis, at risk, homeless or in foster care, and victims of Human Trafficking.
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