The University of South Florida is holding perhaps the most unusual commencement in the school’s more than 60-year history this weekend.
At the same time, there will be gestures of support for the class of 2020 around the Tampa Bay area.
If all goes as planned, at 10 a.m. Saturday, virtual commencement ceremonies for the three USF campuses will get underway on the university website simultaneously.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the nearly 7,500 graduates will view online speeches from System President Steven Currall, as well as campus and student leaders.
Outstanding Graduate Award winners from each campus, along with 43 graduates who earned a 4.0 GPA, will be honored.
Degrees will then be conferred by displaying their individual names on screen.
The Tampa Bay community is also rallying around the class of 2020.
Landmarks like the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, buildings like the SunTrust Financial Centre, Tampa’s Old City Hall and USF’s Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation (CAMLS), along with the trees in Curtis Hixon Park and bridges along the Riverwalk in downtown Tampa will be lit in the school colors of green and gold.
The Glazer Children’s Museum in downtown Tampa will also project a congratulatory message on the side of its building Saturday evening, and the city of St. Petersburg will display a similar message on six digital billboards alongside I-275.
“Despite the challenges presented by COVID-19, the University of South Florida has worked diligently to maintain a strong sense of community and ensure our graduates can celebrate their accomplishments,” Currall said. “Decorating many of Tampa Bay’s most recognizable landmarks is a terrific way for our region to share its support of our graduates.”
The idea of lighting up the Skyway came from Jadzia Duarte, the Student Government Association president at USF St. Petersburg. She contacted St. Petersburg City Council Vice Chair Gina Driscoll, who helped coordinate with the Florida Department of Transportation, which controls the Skyway’s lights.
The Tampa Bay Lightning will also recognize USF graduates with congratulatory messages on digital signage inside Amalie Arena and on its social media accounts.
According to the university, just over 6,600 degrees will be awarded to USF students in Tampa, almost 550 from USF St. Petersburg and 280 from USF Sarasota-Manatee. They come from all 50 states and more than 100 nations.
272 student veterans are graduating.
The youngest graduate is 18-year-old Natalie Rodriguez, who is receiving a bachelor’s degrees in aging studies. The first-generation American graduated from high school and Hillsborough Community College at the same time two years ago. Rodriguez plans to pursue an MBA before applying to medical school to become a physician.
The oldest graduate is 68 years old.
USF is making printed copies of the spring commencement ceremony program available to graduates upon request.
USF had previously announced plans to expand the August ceremonies to accommodate students who want to physically participate in commencement. Those ceremonies, scheduled for August 6 through 9, are subject to what recommendations for large gatherings are like come this summer.