While the coronavirus epidemic may have halted the University of South Florida’s traditional commencement ceremonies, supporters from throughout the Tampa Bay region are finding creative ways to honor the spring graduating class of 2020.
The gestures will take a variety of forms, all intended to show encouragement to the nearly 7,500 students graduating from USF this weekend.
“Despite the challenges presented by COVID-19, the University of South Florida has worked diligently to maintain a strong sense of community and ensure our graduates can celebrate their accomplishments,” USF President Steven Currall said. “Decorating many of Tampa Bay’s most recognizable landmarks is a terrific way for our region to share its support of our graduates.”
On May 9 and 10, the iconic Sunshine Skyway will glow green and gold, USF’s official colors. The idea came from Jadzia Duarte, the Student Government Association president on USF’s St. Petersburg campus. Duarte contacted St. Petersburg City Council Vice Chair Gina Driscroll, who helped coordinate with the Florida Department of Transportation, which controls the Skyway’s lights.
“I’m so proud of this year’s graduates, and I’m excited to salute them by lighting the Sunshine Skyway in green and gold in their honor,” Driscoll said. “I wish the graduates all the best as they cross the bridge of education and go on to successful careers.”
Several other structures throughout the area will also honor graduates this weekend. In downtown Tampa, SunTrust Financial Centre will light its ziggurat on top of the building in green and gold. In addition, Old City Hall, the trees in Curtis Hixon Park, bridges along the Riverwalk and USF Health’s Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation (CAMLS) building will all feature USF’s colors, as will Tropicana Field in downtown St. Petersburg. The USF Water Tower on the Tampa campus will also light up in green.
On May 9, the Tampa Bay Lightning will recognize USF graduates with congratulatory messages on all of the digital signage inside Amalie Arena. The team also plans to post well wishes for the graduates on its social media accounts using the hashtag #USFgrad. In addition, the Glazer Children’s Museum in downtown Tampa will project a congratulatory message on the side of its building that evening.
The city of St. Petersburg also donated space on six digital billboards on I-275 from Gandy Boulevard to 54th Ave. S. The billboards will carry the message “We’re with you in spirit! Congratulations to the Class of 2020,” until May 10.
The displays coincide with USF’s first-ever virtual commencement, which will replace the traditional, in-person ceremonies that were preempted by the coronavirus epidemic. The ceremonies for the Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee campuses will be available for viewing starting at 10 a.m. on May 9 on USF’s commencement website.