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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

University of Tampa students and parents upset with the private school's decision to make its May commencement ceremony virtual have decided to throw one of their own.

The big picture: Virtual graduation ceremonies were to be expected over the last two semesters during the coronavirus pandemic. But now that more people are vaccinated and cities like Tampa have proven big events (the Super Bowl and its victory boat parade) can happen relatively safely, all eyes are on schools to see whether tassels will turn IRL.

The UT group is closing in on a reservation for an undisclosed venue to have their own ceremony, Jeanne Diaz, parent to senior Jack Diaz, told Axios.

"My son said to me, 'Mom, at least I will always remember the boat parade. I won't remember my graduation because I didn't have one. ... Just let these kids have something. These kids have worked so hard."
Jeanne Diaz

The state of play: A group of students started a petition to pressure the school into having an in-person commencement. There's also a GoFundMe, which Diaz said will help pay for the venue and live-streaming costs.

What they're saying: A spokesperson for UT said they're aware of the alternative commencement.

  • "This event is not supported nor sponsored by The University of Tampa," said spokesperson Eric Cardenas. "Therefore, we are unable to ensure that this independent event follows the Spartan Shield Health Safety Plan or CDC regulations."

Here's what other area schools are doing:

Colleges:

  • Hillsborough Community College and Pasco-Hernando State College's May 2021 commencement ceremonies will be entirely virtual.
  • The University of South Florida, which has almost 50,000 students, plans to announce its spring commencement plan in the next week or so.
  • St. Petersburg College, which has about 30,000 students, is doing a hybrid spring graduation, with a virtual commencement and in-person "grad walks."
  • Polk State College, which has more than 15,000 students, will have an in-person ceremony.

High schools:

  • Hillsborough County Public Schools will have in-person commencement ceremonies at the Florida State Fairgrounds, WFLA reports.
  • So will Hernado, Pinellas, Polk and Pasco County Schools.
  • Manatee County Schools will have graduation two weeks later than normal, but still in person, YourObserver reports.

This story first appeared in the Axios Tampa Bay newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.

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