TAMPA, Fla. — Students at the University of South Florida won’t be walking across the stage to get their diplomas this weekend. USF’s commencement ceremonies will be virtual once again because of the pandemic.
The university will hold virtual ceremonies for more than 5,000 graduates on Saturday. It is the third time USF has recognized students virtually due to the COVID-19 crisis. Among the fall class is a unique group of graduates.
“I’ve always kind of liked school,” said Jourdan Rapaport. “I never really wanted to admit it, but I did.”
At just 19 years old, Rapaport is the youngest graduate. While in high school, she dually enrolled in an early college program. Rapaport finished high school in May 2019, only to now graduate from USF about a year and a half later. She says she was a little disappointed with the change to online classes because of the pandemic but says teachers were accommodating and made classes work well.
“Of course, I’m disappointed that I can’t be on campus as much as I was, but for what we were given to work with, it was the best possible outcome,” said Rapaport.
Michael and Jacqueline Ray are among the fall class, too. The couple returned to school to pursue their higher education goals. The Rays have known each other since high school, eventually got married, then enrolled at USF.
“I had gone to USF previously and didn’t do well the first time. Luckily, I got in the second time, and so I just kind of used that second chance to my benefit I suppose, and obviously now we’re both graduating at the same time. It’s been a journey,” said Michael.
Despite many classes moving online, the Rays say it's made life easier in some ways by saving both time and money. The couple explained they’re thankful to be graduating together.
“Initially, when we talked about graduations before all this happened, we planned on doing a big dinner and having a nice party with both of our families, and that’s kind of been put on hold. I don’t know if we’ll ever do it, to be honest,” said Michael.
“To put it short, we’re just grateful that we’re graduating honestly,” said Jacqueline.
Rapaport says she doesn’t mind the virtual ceremony. Learning also isn’t over for the 19-year-old, who plans to get her Master’s. The three soon-to-be graduates advise other students resources are available if you need help along the way.
“Always ask for help. If you need it, ask for it because I feel like the tools are there for you to use them,” said Jacqueline.