Group of students plan alternate University of Tampa graduation ceremony

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Posted at 6:19 PM, Mar 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-18 18:19:24-04

TAMPA, Fla. — The pandemic forced some schools to keep their graduations virtual again this spring. However, a group of students at the University of Tampa still want to cross the stage for their diplomas and are trying to safely hold their own ceremony.

“My heart dropped just because this was a moment that we all worked for,” said senior Jacie Steele.

Some University of Tampa students like Steele were disappointed to learn the school would host a virtual commencement ceremony in May due to COVID-19 concerns.

“So many senior things got taken away during this year, and I totally understand that, but I thought to myself, if I at least get to walk across the stage and have that moment this will all be worth it, and it got taken away,” said Steele.

Steele started a petition to try and change the university’s mind, garnering thousands of signatures. Later, an idea emerged to fundraise so they could hold their own celebration.

“I’ve seen the virtual commencement. It is pretty much similar to like movie credits and your name is just being scrolled across on the screen along with 2,000 other students,” said senior Allison Clark. “So to actually give the students the option to walk is going to be fantastic.”

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The plan is to have their own socially distant, in-person ceremony at the Tampa Convention Center after the virtual commencement. So far, senior Emma Stange says about 160 students are interested.

“Everyone would be required to wear a mask. We are operating at half capacity of the room at the convention center to allow for the safety distancing, and we will be checking temperatures at the doors as well,” said Stange.

The students are putting out information on their event Instagram @2021.graduation. The students say they just want to provide another option to safely celebrate in-person.

“This is going to mean so much more to me than just walking across the stage,” said Steele. “For me, when I walk across the stage, I see all the faces and all the people that made this possible.”

A University of Tampa spokesperson sent ABC Action News a statement regarding the event:

"We are aware of the petition, and we are also aware of discussion of an in-person, alternative commencement event. This event is not supported nor sponsored by The University of Tampa, and it will not officially confer degrees from the University. Therefore, we are unable to ensure that this independent event will follow the University’s Spartan Shield Health Safety Plan or CDC regulations. Nor can we ensure the event will accurately represent or reflect the mission of the University."