After four years of college, Iris Cantu looked forward to everyone close to her seeing her graduate from the University of Texas alongside thousands of other students last year.

But Cantu, a former pre-med student majoring in psychology, had to wait a little longer than expected after UT’s in-person debut ceremonies were postponed for the class of 2020 due to the pandemic.

That wait, however, finally ended on Friday night as she arrived on campus for the official graduation ceremony – about 16 months past her original scheduled start date.

Her parents and siblings watched her take the stage at her college ceremony, celebrating her success as the first person in her family to graduate from college. For her, all the exams and hours spent studying have been worth it, not only for her own sense of accomplishment, but to finally give that moment to her mom and dad.

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“It’s very gratifying because I know my parents didn’t even graduate from high school,” Cantu said. “So the fact that I’m here to graduate from college is huge. And then the fact that I want to go into medical school and continue my studies, it makes me feel like I can do it, especially with their support.

UT welcomed nearly 4,600 graduates to campus for graduation celebrations they were never able to attend last year. Many of the 17,220 students who graduated from UT between December 2019 and December 2020 have chosen not to return.

UT’s class of 2020 was originally scheduled to start in May 2020, but this spring’s ceremonies, like so many other college graduations across the country, have been moved online.

Reagan Weger, from Münster, holds back tears after attending a graduation ceremony for the Moody College of Communication Class of 2020 at the University of Texas on Friday.

Thousands of former UT students recognized

On Friday, alumni attended small, in-person late ceremonies for their specific colleges before attending the main launch event in the evening. Many of the graduates wore the traditional black ceremonial dresses, stoles and ornate beanies they had purchased over a year ago when they were still students.

Karla Alvarado, a first generation student, said the only reason she attended UT was to live the moment to celebrate her graduation on campus. She said it was “a bummer” when UT initially removed this and postponed the ceremonies in person, but is grateful she was able to return with her parents.

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“It’s a huge accomplishment. It is very humiliating. And I’m very grateful because it means I did this for my family, ”said Alvarado, an economics graduate. “I’m doing this so that they have this moment because they’ve never had the chance to experience something like this.”

Thousands of former students were honored at the main ceremony in front of the UT Tower with a message from UT President Jay Hartzell and opening speech by author and speaker Brené Brown. The university also planned to recognize the class of 2020 in the soccer game against Rice University on Saturday.

Briana Easter, from Glendale, Calif., Poses for a photo Friday during a graduation ceremony for the Class of 2020 from Moody College of Communication at the University of Texas.

Hartzell praised the alumni for graduating from UT in an “extremely difficult” environment and a “higher level of difficulty than usual”. He said he expected them to do their part to change the world, embark on a new career or apply for graduate school.

“I truly believe we are on the cusp of a new era of positive change, and you can lead it. Plus, to be honest, we need you right now. We need you to help us move forward and to help us come together as a society, ”said Hartzell. “Please remember the Longhorn Nation is stronger when we all work together. And you can also help Texas and our country remember that the same applies to them too. “

Brown told the graduates to be courageous and encouraged them to stay curious and listen to the stories of others. She invited the large crowd to ask questions, focus on learning, make mistakes, reset and try again.

“If you want to change the world and you started here, you have to introduce yourself. Be brave. Choose courage over comfort, ”said Brown. “And go all out even when you can’t control the outcome, especially when you can’t control the outcome. You have to introduce yourself.

Biology graduate Shazia Gupta said it was nice to attend the graduation ceremonies while being surrounded by her friends and in the presence of five family members. She said she finally felt like she had completed her undergraduate time at UT, which ended over a year ago.

“My grandmother wanted to see her first grandson take the stage. So I was like, ‘Okay, I’ll do it for you,’ ”Gupta said. “I think she’s really excited. My parents are excited. My siblings are excited. I’m glad they were able to come. I think it’s more of a time for them than for the graduates.

Graduates however had their own special moment at the end of the night as the fireworks went off and the UT tower lit a burnt orange with the number “20” in the windows to celebrate the handing over. degrees in person so many of them had waited.

“It doesn’t matter where you come from, what you believe or where you come from, you are part of the history of this great university, and this university will be part of your history,” Hartzell told graduates. “It starts here and starts with each of you. It’s your turn to add to the legacy of so many Longhorns who came before you and who worked to make the world a better place than they found it.

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