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UNI graduates get ready for in-person ceremony this weekend, a day they feared would never come

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CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (KWWL) -- It was a difficult decision to make, but President Mark Nook believes they made the right choice to move the 2021 Spring graduation from online to in-person this weekend.

"It was something we've always wanted to do, and clearly students made it clear to us that they really wanted face-to-face commencement if they could, so we made the decision to really spread things out," shared President Nook.

Earlier in February, graduating students drafted a petition for an in-person graduation. They were confused why athletic events with thousands of fans were being allowed, but plans for an in-person graduation was not.

Stephanie Flores, who's graduating with her degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders, with a minor in Spanish and Gerontology, said when the petition first started, she personally felt it was hopeless, and there was no way they would be getting a ceremony.

"I even shared the petition on Facebook, and my family and friends signed it," Flores adds.

President Nook explained that shortly after the petition was presented, new data came in, and it reported that Covid-19 cases were declining, and it became appropriate to consider a face-to-face commencement once again.

Flores responded, "It says a lot about UNI. They actually do hear our voices, they do hear our opinions, and wants and needs."

Flores is one of 1,534 students set to receive their diplomas this weekend. She and her fellow graduates were scared this day would never come.

"Before when it was announced that it wasn't going to be in person, I felt like I wasn't going to get that complete college experience. And now that its going to be in person I just feel so ecstatic, like all my accomplishments as a first generation college student is going to be recognized in person."

The ceremony will take place in the UNI Dome once again.

Keith Kennedy, Manager of Media Services, says that it worked out for him and his crew to switch it from the McLeod Center to the UNI Dome.

"We had a lot more flexibility in the UNI Dome, because there weren't a lot of activities inside it this time, so we were actually able to have an extra week of set up," said Kennedy.

He also shares some of the changes that can be expected ahead of the weekend.

"We won't be having an orchestra, we won't be having a live singer, a live announcer, all of those are going to be pre-recorded."

UNI will be hosting the ceremony in accordance with the CDC Guidelines, which means they will have to forego a few traditional aspects of the graduation ceremony.

There will be no formal shaking of the hands for the graduates to receive their diploma covers; students will walk with it already in hand across the stage; they will have limited guests and sit in pods, wear masks, and after they cross the stage, they will exit the dome to meet with their family and friends outside.

While it may sound like a lot of restrictions, for Flores, she's not even focused on it. "I don't really care, like just the fact that I get to walk, the fact that we get this huge ceremony is huge, so I'm happy either way."

For President Nook, he is especially excited to see the class have a proper pomp & circumstance because he started with this group of students four years ago.

It has now all come full-circle. "During orientation, I ask them all to make a date to meet me in four years, on the stage to receive their diploma, this was the first group I asked to do that."

This weekend, 1,228 student have elected to attend the ceremony in person, and 888 will be attending online. President Nook says it is actually about the same ratio they see on any other normal year of attendance for graduation.

UNI will have three separate ceremonies this weekend. One Friday evening for the college of Business and College of Social/Behavioral Sciences, and two commencements on Saturday for the college of Education, Humanities, and Arts & Sciences.

For more information about UNI's Spring 2021 commencements, CLICK HERE.

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Dani Miskell

Weekend Anchor & Reporter

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