A year after she finished her master’s degree in social work, alumna Mary Guiton walked across the graduation stage Friday. She said it was an exciting and easy experience.
“I'm really excited because I had twins, and so I started when they were two months old,” Guiton said. “Now I'm done. So, I'm really excited to be able to walk across the stage and show them that I did it for us.”
Thursday marked the first time UTA held in-person commencement ceremonies since December 2019 and the first time at Globe Life Field. The pandemic pushed back all 2020 graduation ceremonies as COVID-19 cases remained high.
Cheers, whistles and noisemakers were heard throughout the venue as graduates walked across the stage. Families were spread out in pods for social distancing purposes, and hand sanitizer was accessible. The ceremony was displayed on screens around the venue including in elevators.
Accelerated vaccination rates, good compliance with masks and other safety protocols, and the availability of a large venue made it possible to hold in-person commencement ceremonies, according to previous Shorthorn reporting.
“I just remember last year before this time, there was just a lot of disappointment,” said Stephanie McAlpine, director of communications, planning and operations for the Division of Student Success and chairperson for UTA’s commencement committee.
Guiton said she was disappointed when she found out she would not have an in-person graduation ceremony and couldn’t walk last year because of the pandemic. But now, walking on the stage for graduation felt good.
Each ceremony had a maximum of 15,000 guests. The university expected 12,000 guests at most ceremonies as of Wednesday.
Guiton and her family traveled from Houston on Thursday for the ceremony. About nine individuals, including her parents and twin children, wore neon matching shirts to celebrate her graduation.
“Being a single mom, a full time worker, doing an internship and school all at the same time was hard,” she said. “But the people that you see here with me were the help for me, because without them I couldn't have done it.”
Her father Kemond Guiton said between having twins and being a single mother, his daughter persevered through a lot while obtaining her master’s degree.
“She put her mind to it and stayed to it,” Kemond said. “So I'm proud as can be.”
The ceremonies have been long awaited, McAlpine said, and the committee wanted to ensure they were better than any commencement ceremony before for the graduates and their guests.
“I really feel like — looking back on the journey — that we made the right decision at the right time for our students,” McAlpine said.
The university implemented a face mask requirement, social distancing, contactless ceremony tickets and reduced capacity. Tickets were also provided to graduates in pods of two or eight. Another change included the removal of shaking hands with the dignitaries.
Graduates were required to wear masks but could take them off when walking across the stage.
Mary compared the experience to her undergraduate degree ceremony where she felt she was rushed through it.
“Today, I didn't feel rushed. I didn't feel like ‘Oh, just walk across. Like I'm trying to get more people out the way like come on.’” she said. “But today I felt at ease and it was smooth and [an] accomplishment for me.”
She said she couldn’t have done it without the support of her family.
“It’s an incredible feeling when one of your children accomplishes what they set out to do,” Kemond said. “It's not just a day or two thing but something they really had to put their minds to everything. And it makes you so proud to see them go through it.”
A virtual ceremony will also be held at 5 p.m. Sunday via the commencement website for graduates who did not want to attend the in-person ceremonies.
Livestreams are available an hour prior to each ceremony at go.uta.edu/commencement.