West Coast University will posthumously recognize an alumnus who was aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger on the 25th anniversary of its disaster.
The late astronaut Greg Jarvis will receive the university's first Distinguished Alumnus Award at the private college's commencement Sunday at UC Irvine's Bren Events Center.
"Greg represented so many things that West Coast is all about," President Barry Ryan said. "Greg represented a very high level of professional achievement."
Jarvis was one of seven astronauts who died shortly after the Challenger lifted off Jan. 28, 1986, from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
His widow, Marcia Jarvis-Tinsley, who is now remarried, has flown in from Colorado to accept the award in front of an estimated 3,000 attendees at commencement.
"I think it's wonderful," Jarvis-Tinsley said. "It certainly was unexpected. I'm very proud of who he was and everything he did just in his normal life."
Honoring Jarvis at the commencement gives the university's more than 500 graduates an inspiring story and role model who walked in their shoes, Ryan said.
Jarvis-Tinsley, who was married to Jarvis for 18 years, said students can find inspiration in how he lived.
A firm believer in perseverance, goal setting and working hard, Jarvis was fascinated by learning and placed a high importance on team work, his widow said.
Jarvis received a master's in management from West Coast the day before the Challenger lifted off.
The college was planning on presenting Jarvis with his degree while he was orbiting — the first degree to be presented in space, Ryan said.
The post-secondary school has since moved away from aerospace programs to focus on health-related fields. The university offers bachelor's degrees in nursing and dental hygiene and has campuses in Anaheim, North Hollywood and Ontario.
A plaque with Jarvis' story and photograph will be erected at each campus.
"We want them to have that sense of being in greater company," Ryan said.