University of Tennessee graduates reflect on accomplishment of completing degrees despite challenges

Education

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE)– University of Tennessee students were finally able to commemorate their hard work with a graduation ceremony after they were delayed due to COVID-19.

Ceremonies kicked off Thursday and will go on through the weekend.

Some of the seniors graduating finished their studies during the most recent spring or summer semester, but due to COVID-19, the ceremonies were pushed back.

Others were graduating earlier than usual.

Despite the COVID-19 restrictions making the ceremony a little untraditional, both students and families were excited to have that big day.

“I think it’s a great thing. I think that we needed it. It provides a closure in this chapter for us that we have, and now we can go on with our lives,” graduate Noah Smith said.

“I’m glad I get to walk across and commemorate it because I’ll look back in forty years and be glad that I did,” Olivia Young, another graduating senior said.

Several precautions were in place.

Less than 200 students were allowed to graduate per ceremony, and each student was only allowed to have up to six family members in the audience.

Masks were worn the entire time, and none of the graduates shook hands with staff as they walked across the stage.

To limit the number of people gathering in one area, students immediately left the arena after walking across the stage. The speaker also paused the ceremony to allow families to leave if their student already walked.

To reach this point in their college career was not easy, especially for the last semester dealing with an ongoing pandemic.

Many seniors were relieved to make it to graduation.

“It’s amazing is what it is,” graduate Travis Bass said.

Bass earned his engineering degree after five years at UT.

During that time he accomplished many tasks he was proud of, and was glad he could show off his hard work walking across the stage.

“This (stole) is NSBE, the National Society of Black Engineers, and I was the historian, the membership chair, the president, president emeritus, regional leadership chair,” Bass said.

He was proud of his new degree for a few other reasons.

“A black student of engineering, I mean, there’s only a few of us; so I’m one of them and it’s a proud moment for me,” Bass said.

His other reason was his mom. Bass’ mother died during his time at UT. She’s the one that pushed him to go to college and get a degree.

Bass made sure, though, she was there on stage with him when he graduated. He carried a photo of her with him during commencement.

“In my high school graduation, she was there for me. You know, she was screaming loud while I was on stage. I was giving a speech. And you know now, I want to make sure she was here again, with me on stage,” Bass said.

His senior year was hard in ways that other seniors could understand.

Navigating your last semester isn’t easy when there is a pandemic, especially for engineering students.

“Coordinating between half classes online and half of classes being face to face, and then just the different type of Zoom lectures. Sometimes sound audio wasn’t great and sometimes things weren’t perfect,” civil engineering graduate Danielle Ursprung said.

Ursprung said it wasn’t all horrible, and they made it to graduation despite the extra challenges.

Now, they have to figure out what’s next, which could mean trying to find a job during a pandemic.

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