By Gabriela Mendez
With The University of Tampa planning to host the 2021 Spring Commencement ceremony virtually on Saturday, May 8, a group of UT students have decided to hold their own in-person ceremony.
This decision comes after weeks of students and parents of the senior class starting petitions, contacting the media, and trying to get in contact with UT’s Office of Administration to overturn their decision in holding a virtual graduation.
“I wasn’t surprised by the decision because I’ve never seen The University of Tampa show support for their students,” said Emma Stange senior double major in marine science and environmental science and leader in hosting an alternative ceremony. “However, I was still holding out hope that they would do the right thing for their seniors, especially since they’ve had an entire year to develop accommodations to ensure the safety and well-being of everyone during a pandemic.”
The university expressed in a global message that their decision was influenced by COVID-19 safety concerns. In Hillsborough County, 117,000 positive cases and 1,576 deaths of COVID-19 have been reported.
“Given the continued uncertainty of COVID-19 and advice from public health officials and rules governing large gatherings, the university could not realistically host a safe, yet meaningful, academic celebration,” stated the university in the global message regarding the virtual commencement plans.
The alternative event is being organized by Emma Stange, Allison Clark, and Jacie Steele who have made several steps such as setting up a GoFundMe with a goal of $6,000 and have been able to accumulate $1,505 these past few weeks.
The event will be held at the Tampa Convention Center, located in downtown on Saturday, May 8 at 1:30 p.m. and tickets are being sold for $100 which includes two guest passes for the graduate.
“The breakdown of the price is incredibly reasonable because that is about $30 for each of the 3 people included,” said Stange. “The sales will go towards paying for the venue, insurance for the venue, audio and visuals, printing of the programs, and the presence of police officers, all of which are necessary and required.”
They have been able to gather 160 senior graduates to purchase tickets and Stange said “that number increases daily.”
“I think the idea of students hosting their own in-person graduation is a great idea, because you will see that these students are determined to celebrate their accomplishment,” said Vincent Lucas, senior applied sociology major. “I do believe a lot of the graduating students will attend this, some will not. The thing is, students have to pay their own money to host the event. Therefore, compared to the usual free graduation organized by the school, some will not pay for this event.”
The committee planning this event has taken multiple precautions for safety regarding COVID-19. In which the convention center will only operate at half capacity in order to ensure social distancing as well as a requirement to wear a mask and the area will be sanitized before and after the ceremony. The graduates will also walk across the stage in a timely manner to minimize contact.
The event will also include keynote speakers which have yet to be announced, including a name announcer for graduates.
Many media platforms such as ABC Action News, WTSP 10, WFLA 8, Spectrum Bay News 9, and Fox News 13 have reached out to the committee. They have also been featured in the Tampa Bay Times, WUSF (the NPR affiliate), Newsweek, AXIOS, and other digital media newspapers.
UT has yet to reach out to the group of students hosting the in-person graduation but has released a statement regarding the event to an article about the students hosting the graduation on ABC Action News.
“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,” said the spokesperson fromUT to ABC Action News.
Yet, this statement has not deterred the group as they continue to plan for the event.
“Walking across a stage at graduation is something that everyone looks forward to growing up. The class of 2021 has had so many things taken away from us, but if I can help give them back something that they’ll remember for a lifetime, I’m going to do it,” said Stange.