University of Tampa seniors plan alternative, in-person graduation ceremony

It’s not the send-off they expected. Graduating seniors and their families were disappointed to learn May commencement at the University of Tampa will be virtual, again.

After hearing the news, a group of students took things into their own hands.

They said it started as a joke, but a handful UT seniors -- not satisfied with graduating college on their computer screens -- are now planning their own, independent commencement ceremony.

"I think University of Tampa not being able to give us that in-person ceremony, I think takes away that special moment for so many of us," said senior Emma Stange.

Disappointed seniors started a petition, appealing the decision, but UT didn’t budge.

So a group of friends decided to take action.

"I texted Jacie and said ‘Let’s just do this on our own, then.’ And here we are," laughed senior Allison Clark.

The last few weeks they’ve been busy working with parents to raise funds and plan their own socially distant, in-person UT commencement ceremony at the convention center after the virtual graduation on May 8.

"I have a list of about 160, 170 students who have said that they’re interested, and I think so far today we’ve sold about 70 tickets," Stange said.

They’re confident their independent event will take place. What they don’t have is the support of the university.

UT issued a statement saying, in part:

"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."

"This is definitely our graduation and not UT’s," Clark confirmed.

The group insists a ceremony can be held safely, saying it’s hypocritical of the university to require students to attend classes in-person and host on-campus activities yet deny seniors the chance to walk across the stage for their diplomas.

Now, they just want to provide graduates another option for a special moment.

"We want to make sure that all the people that are graduating this year feel like they have recognition for their ceremony," Steele said.

Most Bay Area high schools, as well as the University of South Florida and the University of Florida are planning to hold in-person graduation ceremonies this spring.