Among those great moments in life is hearing your name or a loved one’s name called at a graduation ceremony.

This milestone signifies the completion of hard work and is one that calls for celebration.

College of Coastal Georgia hoped to ensure its fall 2020 graduates had the opportunity to mark this moment, despite the challenges that come with hosting any kind of event during a pandemic that has altered many parts of life. The college hosted Sunday a modified, special version of its typical fall commencement, and 120 graduates were able to hear their names called and receive their diploma in person.

“It’s huge,” said CCGA president Michelle Johnston, during a break between ceremonies. “We had to figure out a way. There are not many colleges and universities in the country that are doing this, and we were going to find a way to make this happen.”

The ceremony, hosted at the Jekyll Island Convention Center, looked much different than in years past. Rather than filling one of the center’s largest rooms with an audience of the graduates’ families and friends and hosting a single ceremony to celebrate all who earned their degrees, the college hosted small ceremonies for 12 graduates at a time, along with the up to four guests each could invite.

Guests sat in taped off areas each spaced far apart. When the doors opened for a new ceremony to begin, music swelled and the graduates walked in one by one. They were greeted by college faculty and administrators, who offered warm words of welcome and congratulations before conferring each graduates’ degrees.

“As the provost of the college, it is an honor and a privilege to welcome you on behalf of the entire Mariner family to the College of Coastal Georgia commencement for the graduating class of 2020,” said Johnny Evans, provost and vice president for academic affairs at the college. “Just because this ceremony looks and feels a little bit different … it is no less special and it is no less important. And that’s because, graduates, you have earned this. Congratulations.”

Unlike at most large commencement ceremonies, guests were encouraged to cheer as loudly as they wished when their graduate was on stage.

“Families, friends, you are required to celebrate, to clap, to cheer,” Johnston encouraged. “We want to hear you celebrate these graduates.”

After the cheering ended, families and friends left with their graduates. The ceremony was repeated about 10 times throughout Sunday afternoon.

“In May we did a virtual ceremony, and we worked really hard to make that special,” Johnston said beforehand. “There are some things that just are not the same, and we wanted to give those families and graduates the opportunity to really celebrate, in person. As spread out as this is and as different as it feels, it still has pomp and circumstance and the degrees and the opportunity to clap and to cheer.”

Around 425 CCGA graduates were invited to participate in the ceremony. Those who chose to walk Sunday cited the once-in-a-lifetime nature of the event.

“I kind of actually liked it better than a normal ceremony because it was more intimate and less people at a time, so it was not as chaotic,” said graduate Anna Fennel.

Parents of graduates were also grateful to have this opportunity.

“I was just glad to be able to have some type of ceremony, to be able to celebrate,” said Crystal King, after her daughter Cekayla’s ceremony. “It was very intimate.”

Despite the precautions and changes, most seemed to be in agreement that nothing could diminish the importance of the moment.

“We’re so excited,” Evans said. “Our masks almost fall off, we’re smiling so big.”

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