Fortis College grads celebrate with socially distant ceremony
WESTERVILLE, Ohio (WCMH) – To mark a major milestone, one central Ohio college decided to transform its parking lot into a socially distant event space.
On Saturday, more than 370 students graduated from the Westerville campus of Fortis College in a drive-thru style commencement ceremony.
“It’s not anything that I was expecting,” Krysta Gibson said about finishing her degree in radiological technology.
Gibson fully embraced the 2020 commencement, stepping out a hot pink limousine to accept her diploma on the stage set up in the school’s back parking lot.
“It’s my first time graduating from college,” she said. “It’s been a long, hard two years so I figured why not go all out?”
Some decorated their vehicles with signs, balloons and window paint. Others packed them with cheering family members. Cones guided drivers through a short course where they could pause and snap photos of their grad.
“It’s something they can talk to their grandkids about [and say,] ‘There was this pandemic this one time and I graduated during it. This is what they did,’” said campus president Tod Gibbs about the unique experience.
Gibbs explained the graduating class would normally be celebrated in an event hall, but the COVID-19 health crisis forced school leadership to get creative.
The pandemic created additional challenges and opportunities for Fortis College students in the last two quarters of the academic year. In April, the school moved to remote learning. As a trade school with a large number of students studying programs connected to the medical field, some were able to get valuable career experience.
“Our students have been able to get their clinical hours out in the field, a lot of them working on the frontlines with COVID,” Gibbs said.
He added a state-issued order allowed some nursing students to obtain temporary nursing licenses to help with pandemic-related work. The health crisis may have also contributed to an increase in enrollment and more interest in the college’s medical-related majors.
Claire Byiringiro graduated Saturday with a degree in medical assisting. The young mother said she was balancing her own remote learning with her children’s at-home education.
“It was not easy. I’m a mom with four kids. But we made it. We thank God for that,” she said.
The students said they appreciated having an opportunity to celebrate their hard work and felt accomplished graduating during an historic time.
“It’s insane. I feel like if I can do this during a pandemic, I can do anything,” Gibson said.
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