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It's a Family Affair for 3 Graduates

Father fulfills 30-year dream and gets his degree at UCLA, as do two of his sons. They will attend a Latino student celebration today.

June 19, 2005|Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writer

It was only natural that Daniel Andrade would invite his dad, Jim, to come along to the bar with his fraternity brothers at UCLA.

After all, not only was the elder Andrade a cool guy to have a beer with, he was also a member in good standing of Theta Delta Chi, albeit in a later pledge class than his son.

Today Jim, 57, Daniel, 23, and James Christopher Andrade, 29, will participate in another multi-generational rite: the father and his two sons will all take part in a graduation celebration for Latino students at UCLA.

"Look how impressive they look," Patricia Andrade said Saturday as she surveyed her husband and two sons in their black gowns. She added that it makes her "smile inside my heart."

For the eldest Andrade, this weekend represents the end of a three-decade quest for a degree from UCLA. He arrived at the campus as a young man in 1971 after serving in Vietnam.

But in 1974, when Patricia learned that she was pregnant, he quit school. Eventually, he became branch manager at Bank of America in Santa Paula while starting his own business making educational puzzles.

Still, it always nagged him that he had not earned his degree. And four years ago, when he accompanied his son Daniel to UCLA to fill out financial aid papers, he began reminiscing, wishing out loud that he had finished.

Without a diploma, he could not fulfill his dream of becoming a teacher.

"The boys said, 'Stop wishing and go back to school,' " Jim Andrade said. His wife, a UC Santa Barbara graduate and elementary school teacher, echoed that sentiment.

"You're not too old to try," she said she told him. "And you can teach until you're 70."

And so Jim began making the 70-mile trip from Santa Paula to UCLA, joining Daniel and his friends in several classes. After making sure it was OK with Daniel, he also pledged the same fraternity.

"He asked a lot of questions," Daniel recalled. "He's not afraid to ask a question, if he's not sure. He always had a different perspective. Most of the kids are 19 to 23 -- the MTV generation -- and you get his perspective, the '60s and '70s. He'd talk about being in the Army."

Ten months after Jim Andrade returned to UCLA, his oldest son, James Christopher, followed suit.

James Christopher had first attended UCLA in 1994 but left without graduating. "I just wasn't ready; I got sidetracked," he said.

This time, James finished too. He and his father both majored in history and walked across the stage together at a department graduation ceremony Saturday. For both, the long-awaited achievement was sweetened by sharing it with the other -- and knowing what they had overcome to get there.

For the eldest Andrade, that included recovering from a heart attack and subsequent triple bypass surgery a few months after returning to campus.

But after acquiring a handicapped parking placard and building the endurance to walk across the hilly campus, Jim Andrade returned, lunching with his sons several times a week.

Last fall, Jim completed his course work. Daniel, who majored in psychology, had finished in the fall of 2003. And this month, James, too, completed his course work.

All three waited until now to go through formal commencement ceremonies.

"We just waited to do it all together," the father said.

Today, they will be together at Raza Graduation, a student-initiated celebration of Latino and Chicano students that has been held since 1973.

UCLA officials said they could not recall such a situation at the university before.

"It's such a thrill to see a legacy being created this way," said Harlan Lebo, a university spokesman.

And the Andrades say they are not done with UCLA. Jim and Patricia have one more son, Steven, 25, now attending community college in Ventura.

"He'll be coming here too, God willing," Jim Andrade said.

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