Graduate students sat in a checkered pattern in Peden Stadium Friday morning for a unique graduation participants and spectators said was a ceremony to remember.

The weather was cloudless and 70 for a special commencement ceremony outdoors at Peden Stadium early Friday, a stark contrast from the computer screens that would have been used for the previously planned virtual commencement ceremony.

This is the first time a graduation commencement has been held in Peden.

Hundreds of masters and doctoral students, outfitted in traditional graduation garb, were seated spread-out on the football field as they had their names read and cheered for their colleagues.

One graduate, Nana Jenkins, 25, graduating with a masters in vocal performance and pedagogy, expressed her excitement for an in-person commencement ceremony.

“I’m really glad they have this available for us,” Jenkins said. “We put so much effort into a milestone and it’s great to celebrate with others and to be recognized.”

Another graduate, Shelby Smith, 24, graduating with a master’s in speech pathology, agreed with Jenkins that she was glad to be graduating in-person.

“Especially because we didn’t think we would have an in-person graduation,” Smith said. “So being able to be here with people in my program — who we all worked so hard and helped each other to get here — to be together in person is awesome.”

Smith said the event was one to remember. Smith said she completed her undergraduate degree at Ohio University and this event was going to be special for her.

“I didn’t think this was going to happen, and I’m graduating with my master’s degree, which is something I’m very proud of,” Smith said. “So I’m definitely going to be taking this with me forever.”

The stands were also filled with family, friends and faculty who came to show support to the graduates. The bleachers were filled with masked and distanced guests. Graduates were issued two tickets each to distribute due to social distancing regulations.

One spectator, Mary Boffice, was in attendance to watch her daughter graduate from Ohio University. Like others, she expressed enthusiasm for the in-person event.

“I think it’s great — they did what they could do,” Boffice said. “I think this is kind of perfect. The weather has worked out great.”

Julie Owens, a faculty member in attendance, was dressed in regalia for the occasion, in a historical outfit professors wear to commencement ceremonies.

She said she was there to support a graduate student and show how proud she was of her. She said an in-person event lent itself to that.

“It’s nice to be in person and be together,” Owens said. “It’s great to be outdoors, it’s a nice day, and it’s nice to see the stadium used this way.”

Carly Leatherwood, spokesperson for Ohio University, said the university was pleased to offer an in-person graduation.

“Commencement is a momentous occasion for our students and their families, and we are pleased that we were able to work with public health officials to offer in-person ceremonies to properly honor our Spring 2021 graduates,” Leatherwood said in a statement. “This is a historic occasion, not just because this is the first in-person commencement at OHIO since 2019, but also because it is the first time we have ever held a commencement ceremony at Peden Stadium.”

Graduation ceremonies for undergraduate students will continue throughout the weekend.

Students who graduated in 2020 and were not offered an in-person ceremony will be welcomed back in the fall for a celebration, Leatherwood said.

“We are also looking forward to welcoming the class of 2020 back to Athens in September so that they can finally celebrate their commencement in-person,” Leatherwood said.

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