Family accepts degree for single mother, Army vet who died of COVID-19 before graduating college

Graduation day at St. Petersburg College is bittersweet for the family of Ana Ponce De Leon. The single mother and Army veteran died from COVID-19 before walking across the stage. 

"Just got to the point where she just couldn't breathe anymore and she had to be admitted. That’s when things just went downhill," De Leon’s sister, Yesenia Chaparro, explained. "She had multiple organ failure due to that anemia. And then, yeah, that was ultimately what took her."  

The college invited De Leon’s family from Wisconsin to represent her by walking the stage to accept her Bachelor of Science in Public Policy and Administration degree. 

"We're very proud of it. It's obviously hard because we wish it would have been her walking the stage, but we know she's here in memory and her spirit and we're glad we were able to do that," said Chaparro. 

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For classmate Sharon Barnett, it's an honor that's well deserved. 

"She worked just as hard as we all did. It’s a happy day for us, but a sad day because we lost one of the people we started the program with," she shared.  
It’s a day her family will never forget. 

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"She went to school to better herself and offer a better future to her daughters and for herself and so, yeah, we had to be here to remember her and honor her, her memory and all her hard work," said Chaparro. 

De Leon left behind two daughters and wanted to start a trucking company after graduation.


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