Vanguard University class of 2024 reflects on college years impacted by pandemic

COSTA MESA, Calif. (KABC) -- The class of 2024 at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa has achieved a milestone many of the 542 graduate and undergrad students didn't know was going to look like.

Some of these students graduated high school in 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among them, Dyane Velazquez, who gets to experience a commencement ceremony for the first time.

"Pure excitement, pure happiness. I know for sure I think I'll have tears of joy," Velazquez said. "I did not get a graduation like today - in-person and all. I had a virtual one at first, and then they also had one as a drive-thru."

Vanguard University President Dr. Michael Beals is proud of how the students were able to persevere.

"The dedication and resilience of these students and of these families to be able to graduate, and most of them graduated in four years, is super significant," Beals said.

Over 35% of graduating class is also first-generation.

Anita Rotich was the graduate class student speaker during Thursday's ceremony.

"I made a sacrifice leaving my family in Kenya. and I trusted God that there would be a community at Vanguard to hold me. And there was," she said.

Velazquez's parents immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico.

"I'm the first in my family to get my bachelor's degree in the United States, so it's a huge accomplishment and I'm very proud to be here today," Velazquez said.

This graduating class dealt with unprecedented obstacles and overcame every challenge.

Beals believes they're ready to tackle whatever is thrown their way.

"I think they were called upon to dig deep in a really turbulent time and in a time of greater uncertainty than I think maybe any students have experienced in this generation," he said.

Velazquez's bachelor's degree in biology gets her one step closer to becoming a pediatric oncologist.

She hopes her classmates never forget this experience and keep pushing toward their goals.

"I would say to keep going and believe in yourself," she said.



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