No matter the activity, there’s a high probability the Foster sisters of Vancouver are together.
“We come in threes pretty much anywhere we go,” Carrigan Foster said. “Everyone knows we’ve done everything together.”
That includes graduating from Clark College.
The sisters didn’t plan for it to happen this way, but the stars aligned perfectly for McKelvey, 21, Carrigan, 20, and Marley, 19, to all earn associate degrees as part of Clark’s Class of 2021. They’ll experience today’s on-campus commencement ceremony together. It’s a moment the sisters know they’ll cherish, and even more so as a trio.
“It’s like starting a new chapter,” McKelvey Foster said, “and closing one as sisters.”
This evening, the college will hold its 85th commencement ceremony at Kim Christensen Field, home of the school’s men’s and women’s soccer teams. No guests are permitted at the 6:30 p.m. ceremony, but a livestream is available on the college’s website. Attendance is restricted to graduates, faculty and college leadership, staff and volunteers.
Clark is awarding 1,650 bachelor of applied science and associate degrees, certificates, and high school equivalency diplomas. The college estimates about 525 graduates have registered to attend tonight’s event, including some alumni who graduated in 2020 when the college held an all-virtual ceremony.
The in-person ceremony includes the Fosters, who say commencement also signifies the end of what’s been a two-year journey filled with change in climate, new beginnings and, of course, attending college during a pandemic.
New to town
A family job relocation had the sisters on the move with their parents, Gary and Deanna Foster, to the Pacific Northwest from Arizona in January 2019. McKelvey had already graduated from high school, but Carrigan and Marley enrolled at Camas High School. Adjusting to Clark County took time, but the sisters say they found strength in each other through the shutdowns and quarantines, and gained perspective surrounding COVID-19.
Both their parents work in health care and were on the front lines battling the virus.
At Clark, McKelvey and Marley studied nursing; Carrigan chose elementary education. But all three got involved at a local assisted-living facility — as either employees or volunteers — and early in the pandemic, they saw residents struggle due to isolation from loved ones and limited communication.
That made a profound impact.
“I still think about it,” McKelvey Foster said. “It was really heartbreaking to see a lot of their freedoms being taken away because of the virus. Now thankfully, things are opening back up, but … that core time COVID was present was really, really tough, and we would take the extra time to spend with (residents) so they’re getting that interaction.”
Said Marley Foster: “I’d rather it be me sitting with them. I’d rather be the one holding their hand when they’re crying because they haven’t seen their son.”
Some of the pandemic’s toughest lessons made the sisters stronger. Responsibility grew, as did a self-paced structure in distance learning to stay on track to finish their degrees.
The sisters’ last on-campus class came during winter term of 2020. Since March 2020, classes have been all virtual.
Carrigan and Marley had planned to play softball at Clark, but the college called off spring sports for a second consecutive season in March.
Carrigan, the middle sister, spent two seasons on the softball roster without an at-bat. She’ll transfer to Warner Pacific University in Portland to play NAIA collegiate softball and continue studying education.
McKelvey and Marley’s plans next fall include nursing school.
The Fosters have advice to young people of their generation: Stay focused, be resilient and keep going.
Just like they did by staying on track during a pandemic to enjoy another activity together: commencement.
“Don’t give up, because this time you’re spending going to school is going to reflect you and your future,” McKelvey Foster said.