Alexis Lupian, President/Principal Martin Procaccio, Sofia Lupian and Sophia Rodriguez Lupian celebrate after the St. Elizabeth High School graduation on May 27 at the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland.
MICHELE JURICH/THE CATHOLIC VOICE
Dream delayed: Mom receives her diploma
at St. Elizabeth graduation
It's a safe bet to say that in the history of St. Elizabeth High School — which numbers 93 graduating classes — there has never been the one in which twin sisters, and their mother, were among the graduates.
But at the Cathedral of Christ the Light on May 27, before President/Principal Martin Procaccio called up the graduates clad in red and white robes, he invited a special graduate to come forward to receive her diploma first.
From the families in the pews rose a woman in a black dress. She had planned to be graduating with the Class of 1997; in 2016, she received her diploma.
Procaccio called her by the name she had been known by as a student: Sophia Rodriguez.
Nineteen years — and six children — later, she held the red-covered diploma high.
"I've been wanting to do this forever," Sophia Rodriguez Lupian said after the ceremony. Surrounded by her husband Jose, children and her mother, Sophia Lupian was not just the jubilant mother of two college-bound graduates that morning, but a woman who had fulfilled a dream and a promise of her own.
"Every year I would keep saying, I'm just going to do it," she said. Last fall, she spoke the words aloud to the right people.
"My husband proposed when I was 16," Sophia Lupian said. "My dad and mom said I was too young." She completed her junior year at St. Elizabeth High School.
"I got married at 17, on June 29, 1996," she said. But her father's blessing of the marriage came with this, she said, "You have to promise. You will be married and graduate."
The newlyweds' budget, she recalled, was tight. "We started paying rent," she said. With $550 going for rent, the $450 tuition to attend high school was a stretch, even for the young woman who had attended St. Elizabeth Elementary from first grade before crossing the street to the high school.
"I had to drop out," she said. The decision was both financial and physical. Morning sickness made continuing her studies midyear too difficult.
"I regret dropping out," she said. "I don't regret getting married."
The Lupians' first son, who is 19, was followed within 18 months by twin daughters.
Three more children — now ages 12, 6 and 4 — followed.
"I feel very blessed," Sophia Lupian said, as she and her husband, the owner of Lupian Plumbing in Oakland, prepare to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary.
Her husband, she said, is a great dad, even starting a band, Gladiators of Rock, with the children.
Sophia Lupian's fondness for her high school never left her. "I love St. Elizabeth," she said, "brothers, sisters and cousins" among its more than 10,000 graduates. "I always recommend it. It's like a small family. You know everyone."
Her return to school began during a meeting about college for the daughters, with Procaccio and Vicky Tarumoto, who served as vice principal.
While talking about college for Alexis and Sofia, Sophia Lupian thought about that diploma she was missing. "I asked, 'Is there any website or school to get a diploma or a GED?'"
The response surprised her. "They said, if I wanted this, they could give me homework and they would help.
"I started crying," she said.
A trip into the school's archives, Procaccio said at graduation, showed what Sophia Lupian needed to complete to graduate.
Finding the time to study — some of the homework required lengthy reading — proved challenging. With the help of her husband and daughters, who took over care of the youngest children when they arrived home at the end of the day, Sophia Lupian received an hour or two to concentrate on the books she needed to read.
Among the reading, were "Like Water for Chocolate" (her favorite), "Of Mice and Men" and the perennial high school assignment, "The Catcher in the Rye." ("I wanted the end to be better," she said.)
At the Kairos retreat earlier this year, Procaccio told her daughters, Alexia and Sofia, and the class that one of the mothers would be graduating with them.
Sophia Lupian declined the opportunity to walk, cap and gown, with the girls.
"As long as I got my diploma," she said, "that's all that matters."
She's aware that her work was setting an example. "Do it for my children," she said, showing them "Mom could do it after so long. And for my Dad, I promised him."
As it turned out, his work schedule prevented him from attending the morning ceremony. Her proud mother was in attendance.
She visited her father, and showed him the diploma. "It was a beautiful moment," she said.
With her youngest daughter entering preschool this fall, Sophia Lupian might explore college classes.
"I feel that it's never too late," she said. "If you ever dream of doing something, follow your dreams."
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