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How CU Denver plans to honor and celebrate graduating students

Students will also be mailed their caps and gowns for photos with their families as well as graduation programs and diploma covers to hold onto.

DENVER — It's the celebration students can't wait for.

Graduation day is a time they don their caps and gowns then walk across a stage to shake hands with someone congratulating them on a job well done.

However, commencement for students across the country will look different this spring.

Sofia Shappell is graduating from the University of Colorado (CU) Denver with degrees in film and creative writing. Her upcoming commencement is a celebration she said she has long waited for.

"The actual day became real -- like me telling people I'm going to graduate on May 16 -- since last year's graduation day," Shappell said. "In simple terms, it’s been on my calendar for a while."

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Because of the current COVID-19 pandemic, Shappell's big day will look very different from her friends' previous ceremonies. Gov. Jared Polis' stay-at-home order along with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control prevents the usual gatherings that happen every year.

That's why the people behind CU Denver's commencement, including Kelly Mason, the assistant director of university events, are taking a new approach. 

That includes a virtual ceremony on May 16.

"We’ve created a platform where students can submit their own photos and then expressions of gratitude to their friends, faculty, family members – anyone who has supported their journey and education at CU Denver," Mason said.

Mason said the university will preserve a lot of "quintessential traditions" like speeches from CU Denver's chancellor and president as well as one of the graduating students performing the National Anthem.

Students will also be mailed their caps and gowns for photos with their families as well as graduation programs and diploma covers to hold onto.

"Just because their last three months have been remote learning, [students] are still persevering and accomplishing so much in these trying times and so I think that’s even more of a reason to celebrate," Mason said.

Mason said she and others at the university recognize heartbreak the interruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic has caused students which is why they reached out to them for input before moving forward with any set plans.

"Hearing your commencement ceremony’s going to get canceled is not the best thing," Shappell said. "But then having somebody who put in a lot of thought to what it needs to look like because it has to be so strange felt really nice."

CU Denver will also have a stand-alone ceremony in December for students who were supposed to walk across the stage this semester. Shappell said she'll be a part of that celebration, too.

"It’s multiple celebrations instead of just one day that you thought were going to get," she said.

RELATED: High schools find new way to honor Class of 2020

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