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This Mother’s Day, 2020 Graduates Got To Turn Their Tassels Too

More than 1,000 graduates from UNC-Greensboro who had completed their degrees in 2020 gathered in the Greensboro Coliseum Saturday morning to finally walk the stage in their caps and gowns.

Macie Little sat with her hands folded on her navy gown, anxiously waiting.

Little got her degree in psychology and anthropology in December, but the commencement then became a virtual event because of the COVID-19 pandemic. She says the ceremony she participated in on Saturday, although delayed, felt like the real deal.

“I woke up and my stomach was just in a knot,” Little said. “It's like, 'Why are you nervous to walk across the stage?' I don't know. It was like, ‘Yes, it's finally happening.’”

After waiting through a long line of socially distanced, masked up graduates, it was her turn to take the stage. She looked up at her parents in the stands and waved.

UNC-Greensboro Graduation, 2021
Lynn Hey / For WUNC
Macie Little waves to her parents as she walks across the stage at a special graduation ceremony held for UNC Greensboro 2020 graduates Saturday, May 8, 2021, in Greensboro, N.C. University and college 2020 graduates get their moment in the spotlight and their own graduation, a year after Covid-19 cancelled in person ceremonies.

As Little turned the tassel on her mortarboard, she took a selfie for her supporters who could not be there, including her brother and her girlfriend.

“When I found out we were getting two tickets, you know, obviously Mom and Dad took top priority,” Little said, choking up as she described how her mother encouraged her along the way. “She's been like, 'You got this. Keep going, keep moving forward.'”

Mother's Day weekend is a traditional time for college graduations around North Carolina. While the Class of 2021 took the spotlight this weekend, UNC-G was among several universities that honored the Class of 2020, too, after the pandemic derailed regularly scheduled ceremonies.

This weekend, 2020 graduates at UNC-G, Fayetteville State, North Carolina Central University and North Carolina A&T State University all had their time to shine.

Celebrating With Aggie Pride

North Carolina A&T State held its ceremony for 2020 graduates Sunday afternoon at the campus football stadium.

“I honestly feel like it's a small homecoming,” said graduate Devon Woods. “Seeing my fraternity brothers; seeing my friends, family friends and realizing we didn't have homecoming as well this year.”

NCAT Graduation, 2021
Lynn Hey / For WUNC
North Carolina A&T State University graduate, Devon Woods will attend an in person graduation ceremony for his 2020 class, a year after Covid-19 cancelled in person ceremonies. Woods poses on campus, Friday, May 7, 2021, Greensboro, N.C.

Woods said it’s special to celebrate his commencement on Mother’s Day with his mom watching. He describes his mom as his best friend, and she is an NC A&T alumna herself.

“I know she's ecstatic like I am, and she's been asking me, ‘So what else are we doing for Mother's Day?’” Woods said. “I was like, ‘Well, I graduated, that's the best gift in the world.’”

Woods graduated with a degree in accounting, and has been working at NC A&T’s university advancement department. He’s preparing to soon head to Richmond, Virginia to begin working for Capital One.

He is originally from Queens, New York, but has lived in Greensboro for nearly 12 years. His mother moved their family back to Greensboro to be near her family after his father died of a heart attack.

“He was 49 when he passed,” Woods said. “It kind of drove me to really go in and get everything I want in life.”

Woods says he’ll miss coming to campus every day, reminiscing about the good times he had with friends, and he’s thrilled to have a ceremony to cap off his time at NC A&T.

“For the first time ever, it feels like I actually graduated,” Woods said.

A Couple Makes It To Graduation Together

After her ceremony at the Greensboro Coliseum, Little met up with her family and her girlfriend Tia Cruz to take her own nostalgic stroll through campus.

UNC-Greensboro Graduation, 2021
Lynn Hey / For WUNC
Macie Little walks with her girl friend, Tia Cruz after celebrating a tradition of walking under the clock tower following a special graduation ceremony held for UNC Greensboro 2020 graduates Saturday, May 8, 2021, in Greensboro, N.C. University and college 2020 graduates get their moment in the spotlight and their own graduation, a year after Covid-19 cancelled in person ceremonies. Cruz will graduate later in the week from Guilford Technical Community College with an associate degree.

Cruz got her associate's degree in paralegal studies from Guilford Technical Community College in December 2020, and is now pursuing her bachelor's degree at UNC-G.

Cruz was planning to skip her own in person ceremony scheduled for later this week, until her mom and Little talked her into it.

“Really, it was just kind of a couple of weeks where I was like, this probably is not necessary,” Cruz said. “I have my diploma, I feel accomplished. But I feel like I don't really want to miss out on that experience.”

Cruz is looking forward to a smaller ceremony with the classmates she has befriended in her years at college.

“My classes were no more than, like 20 people. So it was easier for me to be more personable,” Cruz explained.

Cruz and Little have been through a lot to make it to graduation day. They met working together at a juice and smoothie store five years ago after Little transferred to UNC-Greensboro to be near her family. She moved home after struggling with anxiety her first year away at UNC-Wilmington.

She found help from a counselor at UNC-G’s student health center.

“There was one semester I was struggling so bad,” Little said. “It was just this whole process of going to her and saying, ‘Here's what I'm struggling with, and I need your help.’”

Little also came out in college, and found support at UNC Greensboro's LGBTQ+ center, which she points out as she walks through the student center.

“This is where a lot of students feel most comfortable hanging out,” Little said. “This is like my little zone down here.”

UNC-Greensboro Graduation, 2021
Lynn Hey / For WUNC
Tia Cruz, left, helps her girlfriend, Macie Little with her mortarboard as she prepares to have a photo taken at the statue of Minerva on UNC GreensboroÕs campus Saturday, May 8, 2021 in Greensboro. University and college 2020 graduates got their moment in the spotlight and their own graduation, a year after Covid-19 cancelled in person ceremonies Saturday, May 8, 2021, Greensboro, N.C.

The two young women had reached a good place in their lives when the pandemic hit.

“We had thought we had gotten through everything that was keeping us from being successful,” Cruz said. “And then this happened.”

Both were essential workers during the pandemic, working full time at Target. They recall early morning rushes of shoppers at the onset.

“There were countless times where the doors would open and people would run back to get Clorox wipes and toilet paper,” Little recalled.

After all they’ve braved through, from rude customers to late night papers, Little wanted a formal graduation.

“Graduation’s always been important to me so when they announced it, I’m like, ‘We are going,’” Little said.

“She's gonna look at her diploma differently now. Usually it's just that $30,000 piece of paper on the wall. And now it’s like, ‘Hey!’” Cruz said.

“It's hanging right above my desk,” Little explains. “I wake up and I see that and I congratulate myself like, 'Yes, you're a graduate. You got this.’”

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