‘It means a lot’: Gonzaga students graduate with in-person ceremonies

MEAD, Wash. – More graduates are ready to head out into the real world. It was a special day for Gonzaga University students, as they were able to graduate in person this year.

The university is holding five ceremonies over the weekend at the Mead School District’s Union Stadium, ending up with more than 2,200 graduates for the Class of 2021.

Some students graduating on Saturday went through countless nights full of laughter, studying and maybe some tears. The first ceremony held was for law school graduates.

“Almost two decades of being in school and now I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself not going to school every day,” said Leah Wilborn-Neese, a law school graduate.

She told 4 News Now she’s the first generation in her family to graduate college and go to law school.

“Being here, graduating with my family and knowing what it means is just an incredible and such a surreal feeling,” she said.

It was a surreal feeling for her to not only get to that accomplishment in her life, but to also get to do it in person. Graduates were allowed to have up to four people come witness their milestone this year.

The university did not have in-person graduation last year due to COVID.

“A day like today, even though it is different, even though we’re doing it in a safe way as we can, outdoors and distanced, it does feel like we might be on our way going forward,” said Thayne McCulloh, the president of Gonzaga University.

Both graduates Mike O’Brien and Andrew Newman told 4 News Now they had not seen each other and some other classmates in about a year because of the pandemic. The university held both in-person and online classes this past year.

“It means a lot to see everybody. You put in so much work in, so many of our fellow students have helped us along the way in terms of helping us study together and all that stuff and then support of our families, to have our families here, in person, even limited means a ton to have that,” O’Brien said.

While O’Brien only went to Gonzaga University for three years for law school, his friend Newman had been attending GU for all seven years of his college career. Newman said he was happy to be alongside O’Brien and many others to enjoy a rite of passage Saturday.

“GU means the world to me,” Newman continued. “I met my wife here, I met all my best friends here. It’s been seven years now and I love the school to death. I’m excited to be a lifelong Zag.”

PHOTOS: Gonzaga University students celebrate graduation