Students at California State University San Marcos (CSUSM) are putting on their caps and gowns this weekend, getting ready for commencement ceremonies postponed last week due to the raging Cocos Fire.
Originally, the ceremonies were to take place on May 16 and May 17.
The Cocos Fire, of course, changed everything when it sparked right behind the campus on May 14 around 4 p.m., leading to an evacuation of the university and surrounding neighborhoods. Those evacuations, plus many road closures, remained in place for several days as the blaze tore through 1,995 acres and nearly 40 homes.
The university rescheduled its commencement ceremonies for its more than 2,600 graduates for this Saturday and Sunday.
“Rescheduling the ceremonies was only possible when we were able to assess the broad-reaching impact of the wildfires on the campus and our surrounding region,” said CSUSM President Karen Haynes. “We appreciate your understanding and are so pleased to be able to celebrate this great milestone with our Class of 2014.”
Over the past week, the campus and its students have struggled to get back on schedule.
Heather Row was in the middle of moving out of her dorm room for the summer last week when the flames forced her and thousands of students at CSUSM to get out as quickly as they could.
“I saw flames coming towards my car and my car actually started to overheat,” she recounted. “It was just crazy trying to get back here, especially since I live 45 minutes away. Thankfully I don’t live hours away, but it’s still hard.”
Luckily for this commuter school - 95 percent of the nearly 12,000 students come from Southern California so they were easily able to stay with family during the week of evacuations.
Not so lucky - it all hit smack dab in the middle of finals week with commencement ceremonies just 48 hours away.
“With commencement being cancelled it was so hard because so many families were flying in from out of town and they had to reschedule their plans," said Row.
One week later the plans are back on.
The graduation stage and a field full of white chairs ready to finish what the fire delayed.
Thursday morning campus staff members came together for a sticker party - updating the previously printed programs with new dates and pictures from the fire - a topic sure to make its way into speeches.
For out of town families, seeing the blackened hillside in relation to campus will be an eye-opener.
It’s a finals week Row, her classmates and the campus will never forget.
"I mean, it went out with a bang, that’s for sure," said Row.
As for those students who didn't get to finish all of their finals, the university says it'll be up to the professors to determine an appropriate grade for the semester.