Diana Salgado Huicochea watched online as the University of Portland choir offered a patched together rendition of “O God Beyond all Praising.”

The same hymn had rung out at freshman orientation almost four years earlier. It was supposed to be part of the baccalaureate Mass last month, when U.P. seniors like Salgado Huicochea would utter prayers of thanks and hope. But Mass and commencement had to be held online because of coronavirus.

“It was weird and difficult,” she recalled. “You didn’t even have time to say goodbye to your friends. The whole world was changing around you.”

Salgado Huicochea’s faith kept her from being too disappointed. Jesus, she realized, taught that we must act for the common good.

The hardest part was that her mother had invited relatives from Mexico to attend the ceremony. But everyone watched online. When Salgado Huicochea’s photo popped onto the screen, fervent cheers came from two countries. 

Salgado Huicochea, a sacristan at the university chapel, had felt sad before graduation. Max, the chihuahua mix she grew up with, had just died. Just a few days before, she had dressed the dog up in her cap and gown. The chain of events offered a lesson that pain and joy are unscripted.

She grew up attending St. Anne Parish and Reynolds High School in Southeast Portland and had been offered full rides elsewhere. But she wanted a small college where she could exercise her faith. U.P.’s tuition seemed out of reach, but the school added to financial aid until her prayers were answered.

Salgado Huicochea planned on medical school, and may still go that direction, but theology grabbed her. She will begin a master’s degree through Notre Dame in the fall, serving in a parish simultaneously.

“I thought maybe I could be a doctor of body and soul,” she said.

— Ed Langlois