Three years ago Alycia Jones survived a traffic accident that killed her roommate and left her with a fractured skull.
She turned to the books to block out her pain.
On Sunday, Jones will graduate summa cum laude from Whitworth College, one of 4,500 students earning degrees this weekend from Eastern Washington colleges.
Jones, 22, plans to study in the Congo next year on a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship. She majored in French and Spanish, earning nearperfect grades, and also speaks German. She hopes to become a writer.
For Jones, of Concord, Calif., Sunday’s march down the aisle will be as much a celebration of her will to go on as of her academic excellence.
“That was the darkest time of my life,” she said about the months after the accident. “It was such a deep and awful depression.”
She and three friends, all Whitworth students, were returning to Spokane after a trip to California during spring break in 1992.
The driver of their Ford Bronco veered onto the shoulder, and tried to correct. The vehicle went out of control and rolled on Interstate 90 near Ritzville.
Jones and her roommate, Elizabeth Melendez, were thrown out of the Bronco. Both were passengers. Melendez died at the scene.
The driver and a third passenger were not injured seriously.
Jones underwent surgery and spent a week at Sacred Heart Medical Center. She returned to classes as soon as she was discharged.
“I knew if I went home I would just dwell on it,” she said last week. “I needed to be numb for a while and school helped me do that.”
Along with the emotional scars of losing a friend, Jones had to deal with physical pain.
She underwent plastic surgery eight times to repair scars on her face. The worst of them still shows a bit at the top of her forehead, where her skull was fractured. She had dental surgery to repair her broken front teeth, and now has a bridge.
Within a year, Jones was back on the road. She joined a Whitworth group on a tour of Central America. There, she lived on her own in a small village, and grew close to the people.
She said she found a sense of peace in the simplicity and dignity of the poor villagers. They give so much even though they had so little, she said, and their generosity taught her how lucky she is.
Jones became acquainted with a form of literature known as magical realism in which supernatural power overcomes social inequities.
In one story, a powerful warrior is forced to buy words from a wise woman, and ultimately becomes dependent on the woman for his knowledge of words.
Later, Jones learned that an African writer, Sony Labou Tansi, had adopted magical realism to his country.
She won a Fulbright Scholarship to study the writings of the African author and to compare him with the writers of Latin America.
Jones will spend a year at the University Marien Ngouabi in Brazzaville, Congo, starting in September.
She plans to spend the summer touring Europe. She said she’s thrilled with the adventure of traveling.
Maybe the accident had something to do with that.
“It’s given me perspective about the value of life,” Jones said. “Life can be so short. I could live to be 80, but Liz only lived to be 19 years old.”
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Graduation day Graduation ceremonies are scheduled today and Sunday for Washington State University, Gonzaga University and Whitworth College. Here is the lineup: WSU will graduate 2,800 students during an all-university ceremony at 8:30 a.m. today in the Beasley Performing Arts Coliseum. Gonzaga Law School will hold its commencement at 10 a.m. today at Martin Centre on the GU campus. The school is handing out 164 degrees. Gonzaga’s graduate school will hold commencement at 5 p.m. today at Martin Centre for 300 master’s and 16 doctoral candidates. GU’s commencement for students in arts and sciences will be at 10 a.m. Sunday in Martin Centre, followed by a 2 p.m. ceremony for students in business, engineering, education and other professional studies. In all, GU will hand out 600 bachelor’s degrees. Whitworth will award 393 degrees in both graduate and undergraduate studies at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Spokane Opera House.