A Special Day for Merced College's Class of 2013

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comMay 27, 2013 

— Despite facing challenges and setbacks, more than 1,000 Merced College students fulfilled their dream of earning a college diploma Friday night.

Two of those graduates shared the special day with a parent who also received a diploma during the college's 50th commencement ceremony.

Janet Linden, 53, graduated with her 74-year-old father, Robert. She said he taught her the values of hard work and determination.

"What a gift to have this moment and to share it with my hero — my dad," she said. "The only reason I'm here is because of my dad, and sharing it with him is beyond words."

Robert Linden isn't just his daughter's hero, he's a decorated war hero. Linden served in Vietnam and earned a Purple Heart during his 30 years of service.

Despite losing his hearing in one ear, Robert Linden earnedan associate of arts degree in business administration. He already has three AA degrees, a bachelor's of science and plans to go for his master's degree next.

"My advice is to just do it," he said. "It's easier than making excuses."

Erica Powell, 32, was only 6 months old when her mother, Debra Day, began her college journey. But after having four children, Day had to put school on the back burner.

"I've always wanted to finish, but my kids came first," said Day, who earned an AA in psychology. "I'm so happy I finally did this. This is for me. It's my turn — it's my time."

After two attempts at finishing college, Day accomplished her goal on Friday, graduating alongside Powell, who earned an AA degree in health science.

Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, delivered the commencement address and shared a personal story about his mother going back to school to earn a GED. He urged the students of all age groups to never stop believing in themselves.

"You are capable of so much. Now you have to believe in yourself," he said. "Your diploma is just the first stop in a lifelong journey. It's been a long road getting here tonight, and you have reason to celebrate."

A death in the family almost stopped Lori Salas, 43, from achieving her dream. Her mother died from kidney failure four years ago, forcing Salas to put her pursuit of a diploma on hold.

But it was her mother's final wish that Salas finish college, and Salas said she was determined to make it happen.

"I made a promise to my mom and my kids that I would graduate," said Salas, who is a single mom with three teenagers. "It was hard when she passed, but my motivation was doing this for her and my kids. She would be so proud of me if she was here."

Deborah Faye Lee Powell, 51, said she put off earning a degree while she focused on raising her kids.

"I've worked all my life, but it's never too late to go to school," Powell said. "I treated school like a job and never missed a class."

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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