U of Tampa students plan separate in-person graduation after university announces virtual plans

The University of Tampa opted not to hold an in-person graduation in May 2021, which left students frustrated.

One group of students is organizing their own in-person graduation that is not affiliated with the university.

After the University of Tampa announced that it will hold only a virtual commencement ceremony in the Spring, a group of students launched a movement to hold an in-person ceremony of their own for UT graduates.

The college said in December that it hoped to hold an in-person ceremony to honor all 2020 and 2021 graduates in May 2021. However, due to “continued uncertainties of COVID-19 and UT’s commitment to protecting the health and safety of the community,” the ceremony is set to be fully virtual.

In response, senior Jacie Steele started a petition calling on UT to hold an in-person commencement ceremony.

“While safety and health is important, it is the decision of the individual to walk across a stage and receive their diploma,” the petition states.

The petition also points out that Super Bowl LV was held in Tampa while taking COVID-19 precautions and asks why their college cannot do the same.

University of Tampa senior Ryan Rondeau told Campus Reform that the university’s “choice to hold a virtual graduation in these times in the same city that hosted the Super Bowl without high spikes is inexcusable.”

Steele told Campus Reform that students who emailed UT advocating for an in-person ceremony received generic, “drafted” responses.”

Another one of the movement’s organizers, Alli Clark, told Campus Reform that she was “frustrated, disappointed and honestly furious” when she heard this.

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Since the university did not budge, Clark, Steele, and a group of fellow students and parents launched a movement to host an in-person graduation of their own at the Tampa Convention Center that will take place immediately after UT’s virtual ceremony.

The registration period closed at the end of March, with students registering for tickets through EventBrite.

The movement’s GoFundMe has raised almost half its $6,000 goal. Should the event fail to take place, proceeds will go to a local charity.

In a video on the group’s Instagram, one of the organizers, Alli Clark, stated that the ceremony will require attendees to wear masks, social distance, abide by CDC guidelines, and have their temperatures checked upon arrival.

Steele told Campus Reform that the movement has been met with some backlash as some have questioned how the ceremony can be “safely operated.”

“We are not hosting this ceremony because we are mad or do not care about safety, because we do care. We are hosting this ceremony because people deserve to be recognized for their achievements,” Steele said.

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UT issued a statement to Axios distancing itself from the in-person commencement ceremony.

"This event is not supported nor sponsored by The University of Tampa," said spokesperson Eric Cardenas. "Therefore, we are unable to ensure that this independent event follows the Spartan Shield Health Safety Plan or CDC regulations."

When asked if the school has reached out to her regarding the movement, Steele told Campus Reform that UT “still will not speak directly to us or authentically reply to emails regarding graduation but has made statements for news stations. Each time there has been a story, their statement has expanded.”

Steele also pointed out that UT just announced its plans for fully in-person classes in the fall.

“This adds to the confusion, why can’t the university hold a safe in person graduation?,” Steele asked.

“It didn't make sense in regard to all the in person events the University was continuing to hold and Universities across the country, not to mention down the street from us (USF) were figuring out ways to hold in person ceremonies to honor their students,” Clark said.

Rondeau told Campus Reform that having the opportunity to walk across a stage “just feels right.”

“Walking across the stage on May 8th would just be a proper send off to not only my college career but also my educational career. Being on that stage and posing for a picture with my diploma, just feels right. [It] just feels like I accomplished something major and [that] my achievement of graduation is being highlighted,” Rondeau said.

“So far, we have sold over 100 tickets and have plans to make this as close to a traditional commencement as possible,” Clark told Campus Reform.

The University of Tampa did not respond to Campus Reform’s request for comment in time for publication.

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