YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – During his commencement address Friday evening, former Youngstown State University geography professor Ron Shaklee listed all of the “firsts” for the class of 2020.
First to hold an in-person ceremony during COVID-19, first to hold an evening graduation, first to have one in Stambaugh Stadium and first to have their commencement and one-year reunion on the same day.
YSU President Jim Tressel worked his way through the graduates seated on the field of Stambaugh Stadium, happy that he fulfilled his commitment to give the class of 2020 an in-person commencement.
“Well, we said all along when we had them stay remote March of last year that we were going to have a celebration for this great group at some point,” Tressel said.
“Just getting the moment to do that, regardless that it’s so much later. I would have done this if it was 10 years down the road honestly,” said Julie Learn, of Cortland.
About 250 of last year’s graduates returned to be part of the ceremony.
Friends Dominic DeFrank, of Lowellville, Nathan Rein, of Howland, and Anthony Nakley, of Lowellville, walked in together and sat together.
“You know, it’s a big moment in people’s lives. Not being able to do it during the pandemic. Glad we could do it now though,” Rein said.
“Check out the ages. OK, I graduated high school in 2016, college in 2020. I had that in my mind and when I didn’t have that commencement in 2020, it was my dream being shattered,” Nakley said.
“You know, it speaks highly of President Tressel for wanting to do this over again for us,” DeFrank said.
“Oh, it’s incredible. I wouldn’t miss it,” said Emily DiDonato, of Akron.
For DiDonato, this was her second graduation ceremony, though it was much different than the first.
“I did it, it was in my living room. So this is nice to actually be able to celebrate in a normal way when nothing else has been normal in 2020,” she said.
President Tressel told the graduates their degrees now allow them to take on leadership roles.
The student speaker, nursing graduate Andrew Edie, talked about his first job in the emergency room at the Cleveland Clinic.
This night was not just for the students, it was for the entire YSU community.
“We want our family and friends to see us walk, and what better way to do it than a nice day in May,” DeFrank said.
The class of 2021 will graduate on Saturday. There will be two sessions, the first at 9 a.m. and the second at 3 p.m.
The commencement speaker at 3 p.m. will be Kristin Fox, a YSU graduate and quadruple amputee from Poland.