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A Family’s Double Degrees

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ah, the good times, the bull sessions, the all-nighters. Like many graduating college seniors, Staci Dalrymple and Kelli Mason will stay in touch for years, reminiscing about their days as undergraduates.

Of course, it helps that they are mother and daughter.

At a commencement exercise held Saturday under chilly gray skies in Thousand Oaks, the two were awarded bachelor’s degrees from Cal Lutheran University.

Some 400 other seniors and 200 graduate-level students received degrees and listened to an address by former Sen. George Mitchell, who crafted a tentative peace in Northern Ireland and who is leading an inquiry into recent violence between Palestinians and Israelis.

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For the mother and daughter from Camarillo, the day culminated an educational experience that would be inconceivable in many other families.

Before transferring together to Cal Lutheran, they spent two years at Ventura College, taking almost every class together.

“We shared books to save money,” said Dalrymple, who, at 47, will continue at Cal Lutheran for a master’s degree in education.

“It just killed me that I had to study terribly hard, while she could almost never open a book and still do very well. But she has all her brain cells left and I was just rebooting mine.”

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Dalrymple graduated with honors, earning degrees in English and theater. She wants to teach high school and then, perhaps, college.

Mason, 24, majored in political science and hopes to enroll in a graduate communications program at Pepperdine.

During college, she lived at home with her parents and younger sister. But, she says, proximity to her mother both on and off campus did not strain their relationship; at Ventura College, she even acted in a play directed by her mother.

“I felt like I had a buddy all the time,” Mason said, “someone who really understood when I said how stressed out I was because I had papers due. She had papers due, too.”

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Academic stress was a thing of the past for Saturday’s graduates, although a few, including Dalrymple, had just taken their last final exams Friday. Many wore festive Hawaiian leis over their black caps and gowns, and some wore sneakers and shorts beneath them. Undergraduate speaker Meghan Johnston reminded them not only of “the dialogue of faith and reason” on campus, but also of the school’s football cheer: “We’re the mighty Lutherans! Yah, sure, and you betcha!”

In his brief address, Mitchell, who was Senate minority leader for six years before retiring in 1994, urged the graduates to commit themselves to obligations broader than their self-interest.

“In the presence of evil, silence makes us an accomplice,” he said, to the crowd’s applause.

As a result of the Good Friday Agreement he hammered out in Ireland, Mitchell was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998.

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