MONTECITO, Calif. — Westmont College's Class of 2021 definitely earned their nickname, the Warriors.
The class had a college experience impacted by disaster after disaster.
First, the Thomas Fire postponed finals, then the Montecito debris flow.
Now, the resilient students are graduating during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fortunately, the ceremony was able to take place in person on the college’s soccer field, Thorrington Field.
“It's pretty amazing,” Westmont graduate Miah Marie said. “I’m a first generation student, so it's been pretty incredible to be able to graduate with everybody and enjoy this day."
Westmont professor of church history Helen Rhee was proud of her students for overcoming obstacles.
“This is really meaningful that we can congratulate and gather in-person,” she said.
To pull off the commencement in-person, plenty of precautions were put in place.
Each graduate was only allowed to bring two guests.
These groups of three—the graduate and both of their guests— were assigned to sit in one of 312 pods across the field.
The college said more than 1,000 people are expected to attend the graduation.
A total of 306 students received their diplomas.
“This is the most people I’ve been around all year,” Westmont graduate Isaiah Bolton said. “It's just a blessing to be around my peers, family and my fiancé.”
“Everybody's family here or whoever they brought, has gotten them through college and i think it's a special moment."
Despite dealing with difficulties, these Warriors have survived and thrived.
"The class of 2021 has been through everything that we can imagine in the worst way,” Westmont graduate Adriana Perez said. “We've all gone through it together and we all have that special bond."
“I hope that they really built a sense of resilience and sense of hope in the midst of terrible situations,” Rhee said.
Along the way, they've learned many lessons.
“Knowing and trusting that when a door closes, there's another one that's going to open,” Bolton concluded. “That's been the moral of the story for our four years here."
Although it's far from normal, there was nothing quite like concluding college careers in a familiar place.
Those unable to attend the commencement in-person event could watch a livestream of the graduation ceremony online here.