For some students, going to school is a chore. For graduating senior Kathryn Izquierdo-Gallegos, it was her escape.
When she wasn’t at school or work, the Rowland Heights resident was at home, helping to take care of her mother, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
“It’s been a rocky ride the whole way,” she says. “I found school to be the one thing that kept me going because it was providing a path to a future that was more optimistic than my reality was at home.”
By her own estimation, when she walks across the commencement stage on June 10, she will have been in college for twice as long as the average student, but it was due to having to regularly attend her mother’s disease and trying to keep her stable.
“You have to be around when things are bad, but you want to be there when things are good because moments of clarity aren’t frequent,” she says. “You’re riding the wave of the disease.”
She came to Cal Poly Pomona majoring in apparel merchandise management. As she worked through her courses and her mother’s disease progressed, Izquierdo-Gallegos began to see that her passion lied with design itself. After this discovery, she added a graphic design major as well.
“I remember throughout the course of my mom’s disease, she couldn’t talk, so sometimes our communication became visual. That’s part of why I love design—it doesn’t need words to bring people together. You can just use your eyes.”
Nearing the end of college, Izquierdo-Gallegos wanted to gain design experience outside the classroom. She saw her first opportunity while working as a student assistant in the University Art Galleries, helping to create new graphic standards to advertise each show.
Her next project, working on designs for the inaugural TEDxCPP event, took on a more personal meaning to her. Months before, while helping care for her mom, she needed a reminder that someone, somewhere was making progress and turned to informative and inspiring TED talks.
As she was in the process of creating the designs for the on-campus event, her mother died.
“I had no patience for anything, but because it was for the TED platform, those designs were the one thing that I had strength to do,” she says. “The theme that year was ‘Progress’ so the work inspired me to keep going.”
TED talks weren’t her only source of inspiration. Izquierdo-Gallegos credits numerous mentors with giving her the courage to continue designing, including graphic design department chair Sarah Meyer.
“When you watch your mom die for so many years, your world becomes shattered and you don’t know who you are anymore,” she says. “Having Sarah see potential in me that I didn’t, gave me hope that I was still strong and still able to do things.”
From early on in their relationship, Meyer says that she saw Izquierdo-Gallegos as a woman of impeccable substance, both professionally and personally. While other students fear failure, Izquierdo-Gallegos embraces it.
“Kat understands that setbacks sometimes provide the impetus for true change and growth,” she says. “I have never seen someone have such grace under pressure and diplomacy under all circumstances at such an early stage in her career. Her effort to continually change inspires others — me most of all.”
As she finished her final year of college, Izquierdo-Gallegos lived up to the advice her mom had given her — leave things better than when you got there. She helped design for clubs in the College of Business Administration and took on a more managerial position for TEDxCPP as the director of marketing and design.
While some of her friends are nervous about graduation, she approaches it with an earned sense of confidence.
“It’s important to remember that you have more than one shot,” she says. “Always keep going. There is something in you that is indestructible.”