The City College of San Francisco COVID-19 vaccinations site, run in conjunction with UCSF, can be a surprisingly emotional place. Nurse Serina Abu Arafeh has had more than a few patients burst into tears upon receiving their vaccine.
"It surprised me," Abu Arafeh said." But it's such an honor to be with them in that moment and see those tears roll down."
This story, though, is about one day earlier this month when Abu Arafeh was the one who ended up getting emotional.
"It was just so unexpected," she said. "It was a small gesture that meant the world to me."
To understand why it meant so much, you have to go back even further: 10 years. That is when Abu Arafeh began her journey to becoming a nurse. She was married and had her first child by the age of 18. For more than a decade she had to juggle parenting three children and completing community college and a nursing program.
"Pick up the kids, cook dinner, study ... it was a lot of long nights and early mornings," Abu Arafeh said.
It was all about to pay off, however, in early 2020 when Abu Arafeh was finally in a position to apply for her first nursing job.
"I was ready to go, hit the floor running February 16, 2020," she said. "Then March came and COVID came along and everything is put on hold."
With her job prospects is limbo, Abu Arafeh decided to go back to school, one more time, to get her bachelor's degree. It was then she also started the temporary position working at the vaccination site.
It was here that, once again, school and life collided.
On the day of her graduation from Ohio University, Abu Arafeh was scheduled to work. Because her participation in the graduation ceremony was going to be virtual, Abu Arafeh was fine missing it. When her coworkers found out, though, they weren't OK with no celebration.
When Abu Arafeh arrived at City College that day, her co-workers formed two lines and cheered, clapped, and sang and Abu Arafeh walked to her post. Her graduation procession ended up being not across a stage but rather a parking lot.
"That they wanted to recognize my hardship and they were proud of me ... beyond words," Abu Arafeh said.
Although her celebration was far from traditional, Abu Arafeh said she wouldn't have had it any other way except, perhaps, walking a little more slowly so as to soak it all in.