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Willie Tatum walks the stage during COP's Diploma and Hooding ceremony.

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Willie Tatum walks at Commencement nearly 30 years after earning degree

May 21, 2018

For 51-year-old Willie Tatum, walking across the stage at Pacific's Commencement ceremony May 12 was the fulfillment of a life-long dream, a promise kept and, he hopes, a source of inspiration.

"This has been a dream come true," Tatum said before the ceremony. "Walking at Commencement will finalize my achievement and promise I made to my grandmother. And now that I have two kids in college and four at home, [them] getting the opportunity to see Dad walk across the stage and be presented with his diploma, is priceless."  

Tatum attended Pacific as a communications major in the 1980s. A student-athlete who played both basketball and baseball, Tatum was drafted by the Boston Red Sox during his junior year. He completed his degree by taking classes in the off season and earned his diploma in 1991, but he never participated in Pacific's Commencement. Although Tatum kept his promise to his grandmother that he would graduate, he still felt a twinge of regret when he attended friends' and relatives' graduation ceremonies.  

Willie Tatum '91 gives high 5 to son

That desire to realize his dream took on new urgency when he discovered he has stage 4 cancer, ventricular intrinsic sarcoma. He contacted Pacific and arranged to participate in this year's Commencement ceremony.  

With his wife and six children watching, and amid the cheers of hundreds of others, Tatum accepted his diploma and hood during the college's ceremony.  

"It's like a home run," Tatum told Sacramento TV station Fox 40. "You lift your hands and run around the bases."

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