LOS ANGELES — From the moment she stepped foot on UCLA's illustrious campus, Daniela Castro-Alvarez knew it was the university for her.
"I came down on Bruin Day with my best friend," she said. "We were both visiting campus and thought it would be a really good fit for us."
As the oldest daughter to immigrant parents from Mexico, education was always a priority in the Castro-Alvarez household.
Now she's just days away from becoming the first in her family to graduate college.
Castro-Alvarez said her family is proud.
"They've always been very supportive," she said. "If there was one thing I knew growing up was that I was going to go to college."
But what her family didn't plan was for her to graduate during a pandemic.
While finishing her last four quarters at home, Castro-Alvarez's family lost two loved ones to COVID-19.
She embroidered the names of her grandma, Sofia, and aunt, Nena, on her satin graduation sole in remembrance.
"They were always two of my biggest supporters and were always rooting for me to finish college," she said. "They would've just loved to [have] been here to see it."
Thinking of them makes her grateful that her parents will be in attendance to witness her walk across the stage at UCLA and accept her degree in political science.
Initially, UCLA announced the Class of 2021 was not allowed to invite guests to the in-person procession, limiting commencement ceremonies to graduating students only.
But considering updated public health guidelines and input from seniors, the university instated a two guest maximum.
In addition to this spring's events, UCLA will host in-person commencement ceremonies at a later date for the entire Class of 2021 and 2020 and their families and friends.
"On one end, that's good, but it's unfortunate other family members can't be there like my sister," Castro-Alvarez said.
Nonetheless, she said she's grateful to have her parents as her two guests.
For the family and friends who can't be there, Castro-Alvarez will send them a photo to mark the occasion because graduation is a moment in her life incomparable to any other.
She said it's a milestone worth sharing with the ones who supported her along the journey.