Not being able to celebrate with their peers at a commencement is not how many class of 2020 seniors expected their college years to end, but Glendy Ardon is just happy to be here.
The Delano resident, graduating from Cal State Bakersfield with a master's degree in educational counseling, has had a bumpy road to get there — not because of school work, but due to personal struggles.
At the age of 18, she lost both parents and raised her three younger siblings. She also battled stage IV non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
On Thursday, she stood tall and proud with the inaugural President's Outstanding Graduate student medal around her neck, personally delivered to her home by CSUB President Lynnette Zelezny.
"This moment feels surreal. It feels like I am being blessed more than I deserve," Ardon said. "Getting here has taken a lot, and I’m just very fortunate to see this goal through."
Luke Kim, who is graduating with bachelor's degrees in biology and religious studies, received the President's Outstanding Undergraduate student medal as well.
CSUB was scheduled to celebrate more than 2,000 graduates at its annual commencement Friday, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, the university has postponed the ceremony to later this summer.
Not celebrating all of her students, especially those with top honors, at a traditional graduation is not the way Zelezny wanted to the year to end, so she brought some cheer to them.
Zelezny and Provost Vernon Harper Jr. — wearing full academic regalia, masks, gloves and the president equipped with blue pom-poms — delivered the first ever President's medals to Kim and Ardon at their respective homes. The medals are a way to kick off the university's 50th birthday.
"I want to provide a lifetime of support," Zelezny said as she delivered a certificate and medal to Kim. "(You are) a standout student and an all-around fantastic human being."
Kim has been recognized on the dean’s list each semester, as well as the Helen Hawk Honors Program and the Alpha Chi Honors Society. He was an active research assistant in the Keller ecology lab, as well as a participant in the Emergency Medicine Research Associate Program at Kern Medical.
Kim has volunteered at the Bakersfield Homeless Center and an assisted living facility and spent time with a medical brigade in Mexico. After graduation, he will begin medical school at the University of California San Francisco.
"I'm surprised and honored," he said with the medal around his neck. Some of his favorite memories from CSUB have been working with faculty members, mentoring underclassmen and dedicating time to his research projects.
The School of Social Sciences and Education described Ardon as passionate about education and empowering Central Valley students to expand their educational worldview, according to a news release. She has been the recipient of several scholarships.
Ardon said seeing her parents, who immigrated to the United States from Guatemala, work hard to provide a better life for their family, and having to overcome her own personal obstacles, helped give her the strength to be where she is today.
"I saw their constant work ethic to build a better life for us, and I took that on," Ardon explained, "and when they both passed, I wanted to continue that for my sisters and better their lives, and that was by getting an education and prospering."
She hopes to kick off her career or further her education in the future.
Though she got the opportunity to honor two students, Zelezny said "all our graduates are in my heart ... we'll be together soon."