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2017 Above and Beyond celebration

Teresa Vargas '17 is congratulated by Berit Gundersen, vice provost for faculty affairs, and Rena Fraden, dean of College of the Pacific, at the Above and Beyond Celebration on April 19 honoring non-traditional graduates.

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Campus Life

Above and Beyond: Recognizing the accomplishments of non-traditional students

May 2, 2017

Pacific celebrated its non-traditional graduates from ages 25-52 who have gone above and beyond to achieve their life goals and earn their bachelor's degrees during a special ceremony on April 19. 

The 15th annual "Above and Beyond" celebration honored 30 of the more than 70 non-traditional graduates who will be receiving their bachelor's degrees during the 2017 Commencement ceremonies on May 13. Family members, friends, co-workers and university faculty and administrators were there to celebrate their accomplishments.  

This year's honorees included veterans, parents and grandparents. Most are working full- or part-time jobs and shouldering family and other responsibilities while going to school. For these students, the path to their degrees has not been easy and many may once have believed it would never happen.  

"I began working at age 15," reflected Teresa Vargas '17, one of the honorees who completed her bachelor's degree in organizational behavior this spring. "And as a young adult, I was responsible for helping my family and contributing to the household income."  

Vargas came to the United States from Mexico at age five with her grandmother who was born in the U.S. when her parents worked here under the Bracero Program. Her mother and grandfather followed three years later. A lifelong mentor, Vargas's hard-working grandmother was a schoolteacher who spoke often of the value and power of knowledge. It was her grandmother who became the impetus for her eventual return to school.  

"When my grandmother passed away in 2004, I was devastated that she would never see me become a college graduate," Vargas said. " It has always been a dream of mine to obtain my bachelor's degree and honor my family for all the sacrifices they made to provide me with a better life."  

But the dream had yet another delay. Her son, Juan Manuel, was born two months later and the following year she accepted a new position with the City of Lathrop. Ten more years slipped by while she dedicated her time to raising her son and focusing on her career.

Two years ago, Vargas determined to go back to school and started at Pacific in fall 2015. A few months later she was promoted to City Clerk for Lathrop. With the 2016 elections on the horizon, juggling all her responsibilities in this new job seemed daunting.  

"These last twenty months have been the most challenging of my life on a personal, professional and emotional level," said Vargas. "Having to learn a new job, along with keeping up with a heavy curriculum at school has been more than challenging; it has tested my faith in myself and my abilities."  

Vargas said thankfully her boss was supportive and the staff and professors at Pacific were always encouraging.  

"The team involved in this program is truly special," she says. "Every single one of them left an imprint and made a significant impact in my life."  

The program itself gave her tools to help her balance work, school and time with her son, and helped build her self-confidence as well as knowledge.  

"I learned so much about my own self-awareness, how to distinguish my strengths and weaknesses and what motivates me, and being mindful of how these impact myself and others around me," said Vargas. "I truly believe this program molds its students to become future great leaders."  

As with other graduates at the ceremony, Vargas's cheerleaders were there: her son, friends and co-workers and even her supervisor were all there to show their joy in her achievement. And no one was more proud than Juan Manuel.  

"All the way home, he was saying over and over 'Mom, I'm so proud of you'," Vargas said.        

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Learn more about the degree completion program>>  

Read more about adult learners in this Pacific Review story from spring 2016: Working to earn and learn        

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