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Seniors Refuse to Take no for an Answer

By Re’nesia Mills

Seniors at The University of Tampa have begun to plan their graduation after the university announced that the May 2021 commencement ceremony would be held virtually.

“It’s not only upsetting and frustrating, but it’s really hurtful to the class of 2021 because we’ve gone through so much on this campus and to see so many other universities and every high school in Hillsborough County hosting an in-person graduation for their seniors, its hurtful that our university doesn’t see the value in that for our own seniors,” said Emma Stange, senior double major in marine science and environmental science.

Stange plans to attend veterinary school post-graduation.

UT seniors hoped that their petition for in-person graduation would change the minds of university officials, but the effort was unsuccessful.

“Being here for four years, I’ve seen UT show time and time again the lack of support for its students, but I was still holding out hope that they would do the right thing,” said Stange.

A GoFundMe page was created on Monday, March 1 to attempt to raise money that would go toward the preparation and venue for an in-person graduation ceremony that will take place the same day as the virtual commencement, Saturday, May 8.

They have received over $1,000 in donations.

“I don’t want to release any information until we have everything finalized, but I know with 99% certainty that we will be putting a ceremony on and that is all due to the overwhelming support from the parents, grandparents, students, and everybody that is supporting us,” said Stange.

It took Stange four days to send out over 1,000 emails to graduating seniors to see who would be interested in having graduation separate from the university.

The plan for the ceremony is to have at least 100 students in attendance, someone to announce the graduates as they walk across the stage, and they are planning to have something to hand out to those graduates who choose to attend.

“What we wanted to do is to make sure that those who wanted to walk have the ability to do so,” said Stange. “If I could be the difference for those students and put on a ceremony that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives because we put it on ourselves, I will do whatever it takes to do that.”

Some students are already planning to attend the event.

“I’m going to be participating in this if it happens and I know a lot of my friends are going to do it as well,” said Christopher Janak, senior cybersecurity major.

Janak has accepted a job offer with Earnest & Young in Charlotte, North Carolina as a cybersecurity consultant.

“We just want recognition for our achievement because we think it’s a pretty big one and it’s kind of disheartening that UT doesn’t feel that way,” said Janak. “We just want to walk across some stage and get handed some piece of paper, it doesn’t even need to be real, but we want to show our parents that we made it and show ourselves that we made it.”

For some, in-person graduation is about so much more than walking across a stage.

“I have accomplished so many things during my four years here and this is a moment that every kid imagines when they grow up and I know especially for students that are first-generation college students, this is a huge moment for them and their families,” said Stange. “I just think it’s absurd that UT would take that away from its seniors.”

For some students, the opportunity to walk across a stage is now more important after having seen crowds of people without masks on UT’s campus during both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers parade and the Tampa Bay Lightning parade.

“The want and desire increased just because I think it’s a little hypocritical seeing the parades happen and then telling us that graduation can’t happen,” said Luciano Parrotta, senior sport management major. “Whilst I wasn’t surprised, I was a little annoyed.”

Some students believe that UT should do more to celebrate their graduates, especially those who have graduated during the pandemic.

“I wish they could put some effort into it or at least consult with students and try and figure out some way to do something meaningful,” said Janak. “Ceremonies that they’re going to have during graduation week, that’s not new, that’s not special for us. That happens every year, virtual or not.”

Some students feel that the university’s decision to maintain virtual graduation ceremonies will bring about some losses for UT in the future.

“They’ve said they noticed the petition, but I don’t think they care at all,” said Janak. “I think they’re gonna feel that in the coming years when they actually ask for alumni support through donations. I know for me, they’re not going to get anything.”

Overall, some UT seniors feel that university officials have ignored their voices.

“It feels like we’re not supported by our university at all and to walk away from this university with that kind of bitter taste in our mouths, it’s something that I will never forget,” said Stange.

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