MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - This Thanksgiving weekend brought graduation day for students at The University of Memphis.
With two ceremonies canceled earlier this year, the university arranged for three outdoor ceremonies at the Liberty Bowl Saturday.
It’s quiet here now but it was a joyous day as graduates walked the stage in three different socially distanced ceremonies. The University of Memphis giving its May, August, and December 2020 graduates a chance to walk in person despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
“These kids spent a lot of time to get to where they’re at,” said Ray Houston. “At least they need to walk across and get the diploma, that means a whole lot to them.”
For the first time, The University of Memphis held graduation outdoors trading FedEx Forum for the Liberty Bowl in the age of COVID-19. Graduates were split into three different groups, with short ceremonies at 9 in the morning, noon, and 3 in the afternoon.
“This is something I thought we wouldn’t get a chance to see happen,” said Brenda Campbell. “And we are just grateful to God they decided to go on and have it.”
“They’ve worked so hard to get here, so it’s nice the university was able to pull this together,” said Derek Michalski.
The university provided each graduate with six tickets, all attendees had to wear masks and space out in the stadium.
“Be able to look out there and see them like that and they’re getting what they need and what they want and look at the people that’s scattered out it’s very exciting,” said Johnson Matthews.
In an address to graduates, U of M President Dr. M David Rudd praised their resilience and told them despite a challenging year to reflect on the good in their lives -- and the people who’ve supported them along the way.
“We learn that in the midst of unrest, upset, and upheaval it is in these moments that patience, kindness, compassion are most important. And what’s needed most,” said Rudd.
As graduates walked the stage and met up with their families we found lots of love being shared.
“It just has been a year so to get to finish this was just such a big deal,” said Madeline Quick. “I went to college seven years ago, did three years and had to leave…so came back and started trying to graduate again and COVID hit. So I was just really grateful to be able to finish.”
Students thankful that in the end, 2020 finally gave them a reason to celebrate.
”I’m so grateful to the university for providing this opportunity because it was really important for the graduates who worked so hard and their families who supported them… so it was wonderful,” said Lashawn Pender.
And the fall 2020 semester has already concluded at the university -- because of COVID-19 and the fear that it would be worse around the end of the year, the school moved up the calendar. Students took final exams before the Thanksgiving break.