Jazmine Hatcher straightened her mortar board and adjusted her University of New Orleans graduation gown while her mom, Sharon Bradford, took photos and recorded the moment with her phone.
“This is wonderful! I’m so excited,” Bradford said smiling and pointing at her daughter who stood beside their car, which had a banner draped across the hood. “I’ve cried many a nights with this child! I’m so proud!”
The banner had a picture of a smiling 3-year-old Hatcher with the words “Graduate 2020.”
It’s not how Hatcher—nor many of her fellow graduates—imagined one of the culminating events of her college experience. Nevertheless, Hatcher said she is grateful for the recognition.
“It’s fortunate that we’re still able to celebrate,” said Hatcher, a biology major, who will formally graduate in December.
On Friday, the University of New Orleans hosted a drive-through commencement celebration on campus for summer and fall 2020 graduates. Because of the ongoing pandemic, a virtual commencement ceremony will be held in December in lieu of the traditional in-person ceremony at Lakefront Arena.
“We really wanted to give our students the celebration they deserve in the best way we could,” said Katie Comer, assistant director of university events. “Right now we thought this was the best and safest way we could celebrate our graduates.”
Mini-balloon towers, colorful signs and banners proclaimed the occasion as students, many dressed in their caps and gowns, marked the event with selfies, videos and family portraits as they waited in the University Center parking lot for the procession to begin.
“We’re living in crazy times so I think it’s cool and very unique that we get to do this,” said Genesis Mata, poking her head through the sunroof of her parents SUV to take a picture.
Her dad, George Mata, is an alumnus of UNO.
“This is nice,” George Mata said, before dashing into a family photo with his daughter under a nearby tree.
The University Center parking lot was used as a staging area for the motorcade. A few vehicles down from the Mata’s gathering, graduate Barry Hutcherson sat waiting in his Ford Mustang GT convertible with the top down and a big smile. He wore his gown while his cap and a sash were stored on the back seat.
“It’s a good day to have the top down,” said Hutcherson, a Navy veteran majoring in human resource management. “I’m happy!”
Meanwhile, along Alumni Drive, Juana Ibanez, planning and urban studies faculty member, and Amanda Robbins, residential life director, were among the faculty and staff cheering from the neutral ground and sidewalk while ringing cowbells and waving handkerchiefs to greet students as they motored down in front of the University Center.
“I’m just so proud of our kids for actually getting through and graduating. This has been a tough semester for everybody,” Ibanez said. “This is a nice unconventional way to celebrate.”
As the processional of vehicles passed slowly, with enthusiastic waves, honking horns and thumbs up signs from graduates and their relatives, President John Nicklow handed each graduate a souvenir box of UNO paraphernalia.
“We know that this is not the same as being able to gather for an in-person commencement ceremony at the Lakefront Arena,” Nicklow said. “But this allowed our faculty and staff to see our graduates and cheer them on face-to-face. Our graduates let us know how much they appreciated it.”