Christopher Swieca
Christopher Swieca is overcome with emotion at the special commencement ceremony staged just for him. Steve Zylius / UCI

Surrounded by the love and Anteater spirit of family and friends, Christopher Swieca received his diploma from University of California, Irvine Chancellor Howard Gillman on Tuesday, July 12.

The business economics major and member of the men’s water polo team wasn’t sure the day would ever come – not because he didn’t study hard and earn it, but because his eyes were giving him trouble, bad trouble. He had detached retinas in both eyes.

If Swieca hadn’t had the surgery that kept him from the June 10 commencement ceremony, he could have lost his eyesight. And if he didn’t have a grandmother with perfect penmanship who sat down and wrote a note to the chancellor detailing the story, he might have gotten his diploma in the mail.

  1. alt placeholder Graduate Christopher Swieca gets a hug from his mother, Susan Swieca, during a special commencement ceremony Tuesday as other family members, water polo coach Marc Hunt (left) and teammates look on. Steve Zylius / UCI
  2. alt placeholder Social sciences dean Bill Maurer (right) leads those gathered in Chancellor Howard Gillman's office - including business economics grad Christopher Swieca (left, foreground) - in a "Zot! Zot! Zot!" cheer. Steve Zylius / UCI
  3. alt placeholder After the ceremony, new grad Christopher Swieca shares a moment with grandmother Sandra Schrader, who wrote to Chancellor Howard Gillman about her grandson having to miss his original commencement due to urgent surgery. Steve Zylius / UCI
  4. alt placeholder Christopher Swieca is overcome with emotion at the special commencement ceremony staged just for him. Steve Zylius / UCI
  5. alt placeholder The new grad speaks with members of the press covering the heartwarming event. Steve Zylius / UCI

Instead, the chancellor’s office was transformed into a mini commencement theater; a staff member sang “The Star Spangled Banner”; Swieca’s four-year roommate, Jared Osborn, prepared a speech; and family, water polo teammates, coach Marc Hunt, athletic director Mike Izzi and a hefty complement of media gathered to celebrate his accomplishments.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

“We’re all here because somebody loves us,” Gillman said, before asking parents Tom and Susan Swieca and grandparents Sandra and Robert Schrader to stand and be acknowledged.

“I am humbled, happy and excited that people care enough to do this,” Swieca said. “I am very grateful.”