Juan Fernandez sat in the rain and waited to be the first of his family to hear his name called at a collegiate commencement ceremony.
When the time came for the 22-year-old first-generation college student to line up to be recognized, an announcement to cancel the ceremony due lightning in the area brought his recognition to a standstill.
“I feel like I've given so much to the university, and I don't even get recognized for anything,” said Fernandez, who received bachelor’s degrees in statistics and economics. “I know it's something that's trivial for many other people, but that's our big moment, that's like the one thing that we all dream about.”
Between 200 to 300 graduates could not walk across the stage at the UF College of Liberal Arts and Sciences graduation ceremony Saturday morning due to lightning, said UF spokesperson Steve Orlando. The commencement started at 9 a.m. in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
On Monday, Orlando announced the future individual ceremonies are intended to be indoors, while the university-wide commencement will likely remain outdoors.
“We know how important that individual recognition is,” Orlando said, “and although it won’t make up for what happened on Sunday, we are committed to finding a way to hold all college recognition ceremonies indoors next May.”
The rain started in light bursts at about 10 a.m. When the rain became heavier about 20 minutes later, an announcement was made to urge those who had graduated to leave the stadium and graduates who still wanted to walk to stay.
Just before 11 a.m., the ceremony was canceled due to nearby lightning.
Students who were not recognized on the field’s main stage were told they could take photos with the dean, David Richardson, and proceed with a smaller recognition of names in the north endzone, near sections 24 and 25 of the stadium, Orlando said.
Fernandez opted not to participate in the ceremony held in the hallways of the stadium, feeling it was not a proper way to honor the graduates after being stuck in the rain.
“It wasn't even a bandage to the entire situation,” Fernandez said. “I had to read the pamphlet to see he was our dean. So I thought, why am I gonna go take a picture with someone?”
The cancellation of the ceremony also prevented speakers’ presentations, including Trevor Pope, the UF senior class president, and alumni Joan Forrest, the president of the St. Petersburg, Florida-based Dawson Academy, a postgraduate educational and clinical research facility.
The intended speakers were not paid, Orlando said.
After the trouble following the college graduation, Anthony Rojas, a 23-year-old political science master’s student, started a petition calling for the resignation of UF Director of Commencements Stephanie McBride.
As of 6:00 p.m, Monday, the petition had 2,260 signatures.
“This incident is just the latest in a series of disappointed events that have plagued UF graduations for the past year all under the leadership of UF Director of Commencements Stephanie McBride,” the petition read.
The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences graduation ceremony was previously held in the O’Connell Center in the Fall and Spring last year, Orlando said.
Rebecca Corbin, a 22-year-old UF anthropology bachelor’s graduate, went to both the university-wide commencement Saturday and the college ceremony. She attended both because she was worried about the college ceremony getting rained out.
Corbin felt lucky to be one of the first majors to be called. When it did start to rain, Corbin said the graduates in her row started to leave.
“It just kind of felt unnecessary,” she said. “My grandparents are both disabled, so the fact that they had to be in The Swamp was a lot more difficult than when it used to be in the O’Connell Center.”
This story has been updated to reflect the number of signatures on Rojas’ petition as of Monday evening and the university’s plans to hold individual commencement ceremonies indoors.