Mom’s hair is a little longer. Dad’s wrinkles are a little deeper. But their smiles are wider and the family one degree bigger.

Four years ago, Patrick Pace was a nervous high school senior, trying to figure out where he would go to college. Growing up in Los Angeles, he didn’t know much about Northern California or have many peers headed there, but he set his sights on Sonoma State and after a campus visit, his heart was nearly set. Then, his family ventured further north for one last tour.

“I just saw Chico and realized, this is the place for me,” he said “The people were so nice, the campus was so beautiful.”

At Choose Chico, he made his decision and University Photographer Jason Halley snapped a photo of the Pace family to celebrate the occasion, parents grinning proudly on either side.

Flash forward four years and Halley was taking the same photo—this time of Pace wearing a cap and gown—a coincidence the photographer didn’t realize until editing the images, when he thought the Paces looked surprisingly familiar.

“It happened completely by chance,” Halley wrote, sharing the images on social media. “It was amazing to see the whole family. Brings the whole event full circle.”

Pace said the decision to enroll at Chico State was one of the best he ever made.

“It’s a place where you can really grow into your own and you learn a lot about yourself,” he said. “You meet some of your best friends. The school work is no joke, so stay on top of your studies. It’s just a great town to grow up in, a great place to spend your last four years of childhood.”

While Pace did not know much about college or careers as a high school student, he was confident about his planned major—journalism—and his aptitude to succeed.

“I went to a writing-intensive high school. I already knew I enjoyed writing. I figured journalism would be right for me,” he said. “And I took a lot of AP classes in high school. There was nothing to be nervous about. I just had to do the work.”

Pace holds up a mock ID card as prospective students and their parents explored campus for Choose Chico in 2014.

The real challenge, Pace knew, would be making friends. A stranger in a sea of unfamiliar faces and culturally removed from his family and friends, he wasn’t sure how to find his place.

“I lived in [University Village] my first year, and I’m kind of shy to begin with if I don’t know you,” he said. “I made eight or nine actual friends my first year and that was just a big difference.”

Many of his other predictions and desires came true. He wanted to join a fraternity, and he did, becoming a member of Pi Kappa Alpha as a sophomore. He aimed to write for the college newspaper—and he did, spending three semesters on The Orion, first as a writer and then as editor. He also joined the Black Student Union, attending meetings and helping with events, and spent a lot of time in the Cross-Cultural Leadership Center.

He was surprised by how many friends he made during his time on The Orion, bonding with the fellow journalism students with whom he spent long hours in the newspaper’s office in the Plumas Hall basement. As a sports reporter, he also befriended many student-athletes as he covered the baseball and basketball teams.

“The Orion was really the thing that helped me find my way here,” he said.

The caring community and campus beauty that first fired his affection for Chico State were lasting parts of his Chico Experience. One of the things Pace will miss most after graduation is spending time strolling slowly to campus and greeting friends along the way.

“I also just loved that there was a river that flowed through the campus,” he said. “Sometimes I would just stop on my way home from school and stare at the river. I would sit there and think for a while.”

Pace’s career aspirations remain relatively unchanged. He still hopes to become a sports writer, but his experience in higher education has also made him consider teaching as a career. After he finishes the last two classes for his degree this fall, he plans on pursuing a master’s degree.

It’ll be one more photo opportunity for his parents to look forward to.