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FGCU to celebrate graduates at in-person ceremony

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Florida Gulf Coast University is hosting an in-person graduation Friday, but it will look quite different from past ceremonies.

All the speakers will be virtual, but students will at least have the chance to celebrate their accomplishments, walk across the stage and have family watch them get their diploma.

It seems as though the students were pretty happy about this condensed option because about 70% of the graduates signed up to walk. It will be a reduced capacity but fortunately, each graduate will be able to have four guests in the arena.

Face masks are required and each student has an appointment time to get their diploma.

President Mike Martin said the two happiest times of the year are when students come back in the fall and Graduation Day. He’s happy to welcome that energy back, even if it comes with some changes.

“We pre-taped all of the program itself and kept that to a minimum but each student will be able to, over a period of several days in smaller groups, cross the stage, be seen and photographed if they choose by their families, and therefore have the chance to be acknowledged by having completed their degree,” he said.

Alec Marsh is among the graduating class. The senior biology student made it his mission to study reptiles on FGCU’s massive campus. He helped with conservation efforts, tracking reptiles and studying their patterns.

He’s even on the animal control team, which responds to wildlife nuisance calls.

Reflecting back on his time at FGCU, Marsh said the university resources helped shape who he is.

“FGCU has been the perfect place for me. I got involved in research early because of my interest in snakes. It was great being down here and you can research them year-round basically because of the weather and climate,” he said.

“So much of what we’re doing on campus and so much of what we’re doing in the local community couldn’t have happened without Alex,” said Billy Gunnels, Ph.D., director of undergraduate research.

“We all wanted to find a way to recognize students individually that we haven’t been able to do couldn’t do last spring,” Martin said. “We can simulate much of the program and still focus on the individual students.”

Petra Halmai was excited to hear her name called and to walk across the stage. She never thought she’d make it all four years.

“I thought I was going home after a year because it was tough not speaking English,” Halmai said.

Halmai is a native of Hungary and came to FGCU to join the swim team. She overcame the language barrier, worked hard in the classroom and the pool, and was able to make it to graduation day.

She is also overjoyed to graduate in person. “If I get this opportunity like in person even if it’s for 15 minutes like it’s a lot of fun you know. Walking like not my parents but like my friends are here so it means a lot to me,” said Halmai.

Halmai is grateful for her time at FGCU because it helped her achieve her childhood dream of competing in the Olympics.

“This is why I worked hard. This is why I went through everything, ok. I don’t speak English but I want to make the Olympics so this is why I didn’t give up,” she said.

1,400 seniors decided to graduate in person. FGCU set it up where there were two separate stages in Alico Arena.

The virtual ceremony with all the congratulatory speeches will be on Sunday.

Martin said they’re still working on a way to put on a graduation ceremony for the students who didn’t have one last year, but no plans set in stone just yet.