SWFL high schools, universities plan in-person graduations

Reporter: Nicole Lauren Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:
An FGCU graduating class. Credit: WINK News

Graduation time has arrived, but 2021 won’t see those drive-thru ceremonies from the beginning of the pandemic. Instead, school districts and universities in Southwest Florida will give their seniors their much-deserved diplomas in person.

The Lee County School District says the COVID-19 safety requirements may vary depending on the venue, but still had a good list of what students and parents can expect.

There will most likely be spacing between seats for students and parents in the stands and cleanings between each of the ceremonies. Students will only be given two tickets for family members this year. The District says it was really hard for students last year who didn’t get to graduate, so a commitment was made in January that this year’s classes will walk across the stage to receive their diplomas.

“It was rough last year, it was tough… we get it, we wanted to have these ceremonies for students, but the COVID[-19] pandemic was just so new, so constantly changing,” said Rob Spicker, Lee County Schools spokesman. “Back-and-forth, and it was frustrating for them as it was for us.”

The schools will also hosting their ceremonies at the Suncoast Credit Union Arena and Hertz Arena.

To see when and where the graduation ceremonies are for Lee County seniors, click here.

This year will still be somewhat non-traditional at Florida Gulf Coast University, which is going to offer a hybrid commencement. Students will be able to walk across the stage to get their diplomas and take a photo, but they will have all of the speeches and formalities online, so you won’t see students and their families sitting in an arena for three hours, as in a typical ceremony.

“It’s going to be a very different experience; it’s not your traditional commencement,” said Deborah Wiltrout, FGCU’s associate president for marketing and communications. “Students will register, and they’ll come in and they’ll go into Alico Arena… I don’t want to give too much away, because I want the students to be surprised! But they get an opportunity to walk across the stage, their families will be able to be there, there will be multiple opportunities for pictures, and we’re going to really make it a big celebration for the students.”

The university will also give each student four tickets for family members.

After years of hard work, students say this moment is what they look forward to most. One FGCU senior, Rachel Adkins, was worried she wouldn’t have this opportunity.

“The chance that we are being able to do it and walk across the stage was kind of… just exciting and unexpected,” Adkins said.

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