REVISED DATE: UC graduates poised to celebrate

UC to recognize record number of graduates at first in-person commencement since COVID-19 pandemic

Weather Postponement

*Because of the forecast of heavy rain, Thursday's commencement has been postponed to 2 p.m. Friday. The Friday commencement will proceed as scheduled at 6 p.m., both at Nippert Stadium.

Like many University of Cincinnati graduates, Brittany Collier is looking forward to UC’s first in-person commencement since the COVID-19 pandemic.

The communication major will don her cap and gown at Nippert Stadium with her mom and dad in the stands cheering her accomplishment. UC’s commencement April 30 will recognize a record number of graduates in the 202-year history of the university.

The event also marks a milestone celebration for students and their families amid the unprecedented societal changes felt globally, nationally and on the UC campus in the past year.

“I think my parents will be very appreciative of having memories of this important day,” Collier said. “The past year has been crazy.”

UC will host two in-person ceremonies at 2 and 6 p.m. Friday at Nippert Stadium, weather permitting. Each graduate may bring two guests, but tickets are required for entry.

On Friday at 2 p.m., UC will recognize:

  • College of Allied Health Sciences
  • Lindner College of Business
  • College of Engineering and Applied Science
  • College of Medicine
  • Winkle College of Pharmacy
  • UC Blue Ash College
  • UC Clermont College

On Friday at 6 p.m., UC will recognize:

  • College of Arts and Sciences 
  • College-Conservatory of Music
  • College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services
  • College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning
  • College of Nursing
A student wearing a face mask holds up a face mask.

Standard COVID-19 health and safety protocols will be in place for UC's spring commencement, including face masks. Photo/Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative + Brand

Social distancing, masks and more

Standard COVID-19 health and safety protocols are required by all graduates and guests, including wearing a mask; sitting in assigned, socially distanced seating; maintaining a 6-foot distance from other groups; and frequent hand sanitization. (Hand sanitizer stations are located on campus and around Nippert Stadium.) Graduates and guests will be directed to the Nippert Stadium entrance that corresponds with their seat in an effort to minimize crowds and gatherings. 

All members of the campus community and visitors are encouraged to adhere to CDC guidelines around promoting healthy behaviors and reducing the spread of disease. 

A UC student in cap and gown stands in front of a greeting sign reading "Home of the UC Bearcats."

UC will play host to its first in-person commencement since the COVID-19 pandemic. Pictured is UC College of Arts and Sciences graduate Brittany Collier. Photo/Ravenna Rutledge/UC Creative + Brand

About the Spring Class of 2021

UC will recognize a record 6,866 students earning 7,225 degrees at its spring celebration. Some students earn multiple degrees. The graduates earned 504 associate degrees, 4,749 bachelor’s degrees, 1,433 master’s degrees, 242 doctoral degrees and 297 professional degrees.

Nearly half of all degrees, or 46%, are in the STEMM fields of science, technology, engineering, math or medicine.

More than 16% of graduates are first-generation college students; 204 come from Cincinnati Public Schools and 211 students are U.S. veterans or dependents of veterans.

The youngest grad is just 17; the oldest is 72. 

Graduates in the Class of 2021 come from 82 countries around the world from Algeria to Zimbabwe. Students also hail from all 50 states and 85 of Ohio’s 88 counties.

Brittany Collier stands in front of the Mick and Mack lion statues at McMicken Hall.

UC College of Arts and Sciences graduate Brittany Collier parlayed her UC experience in marketing and communication into a job offer from a social media company. Photo/Ravenna Rutledge/UC Creative + Brand

Launching new careers

UC graduate Collier used her experience in marketing to land a job with a social media company after graduation. She produced an explainer video about why she embraced a new social media app called Cappuccino that went viral on TikTok, earning nearly 4 million views. The post attracted the interest of the social media upstart, which offered her a job managing its own social media.

Like many first-year students, Collier wasn’t sure what major she wanted to pursue, so she enrolled in UC’s Exploratory Studies. She took a class on exploring professional paths taught by UC associate professor Michael Sharp.

“I fell in love with the idea of communication and what it could do for me,” Collier said.

Collier participated in UCommunicate, a graduate-led consulting group that helps businesses and other clients with their marketing and communications strategies. Collier helped a Greater Cincinnati restaurant with its social media messaging and worked with an educational nonprofit on its recruiting campaign.

“Getting real-world experience was important. We got to work with real clients. I took leadership roles. That was a great resume builder as well,” Collier said. 

Collier said social media was useful to keep in touch with friends during the COVID-19 lockdowns. She is excited that this year’s commencement will be in-person for the first time since the global pandemic.

“Going to UC has been a great experience,” she said.

Ella Tanner stands next to Alex Tanner in cap and gown at his graduation.

UC's spring commencement will take place at Nippert Stadium, weather permitting. In the event of dangerous or severe weather, UC will recognize graduates with a pre-recorded virtual ceremony.

Working through grief

Ella Tanner, a graduate of UC’s College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services, persevered through a family tragedy to reach commencement.

In 2020, her older brother, Stephen “Alex” Tanner, died in a cycling accident. Always a big influence in her life, Tanner said she was devastated by the sudden loss. 

Ella Tanner stands next to Alex Tanner in cap and gown at his graduation.

UC graduate Ella Tanner, left, lost her brother Alex to an accident last year. He was a big influence in her life. Photo/Provided

“He was someone who was smart and confident — president of his fraternity. He was a really good guy,” she said. “But he wouldn’t have wanted me to put my life on hold to grieve.”

Tanner, a public and community health major, got a hospital internship at UC that allowed her to give presentations on injury prevention. She visited area high schools to talk about bicycle safety, distracted driving and the accident that killed her brother, who at 23 had just earned a master’s degree in Missouri and was beginning his career in accounting.

“Instead of falling apart with the added stress of the year, Ella took this internship knowing she would be telling her story about Alex,” her mother said. “She's used her story to help others. As a parent, I couldn't be more proud.”

“It was a horrible tragedy,” Tanner said. “But my professors were very supportive.”

At UC, Tanner followed her brother’s footsteps into Greek life by joining the sorority Kappa Kappa Gamma. Her brother gave her advice about maintaining a work-life balance at school.

“His advice was always funnier. He would tell me to work really hard but to work for the weekend,” she said. “Every day he would say, ‘It’s a great day to be great!’”

A photo of the O'Connor family.

UC College of Engineering and Applied Science graduate Sydney O'Connor has a big Bearcat family. Pictured from left are her dad, Steve O'Connor (Finance, '93), herself, her sister Macey O'Connor (Finance, '24), her mom, Lisa O’Connor (Economics, ’89) and her brother Bradley O’Connor (Aerospace Engineering, ‘23). Photo/Provided

Education and experience at UC

UC College of Engineering and Applied Science graduate Sydney O’Connor left one dream co-op for another that landed her a job offer from Apple Inc.

O’Connor took part in UC’s accelerated engineering degree, or ACCEND, program, which combines undergraduate and graduate degrees. She earned a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering and a master’s in computer science. Along the way, O’Connor took part in the college’s mandatory and top-ranked co-op program, in which students spend part of the year taking classes and part of the year working at employers in their chosen field.

“I came to UC because of the co-op program — the opportunity to explore the world and get that important real-life work experience,” O’Connor said.

Sydney O'Connor wears a Homecoming sash.

Sydney O'Connor was part of UC's Homecoming Court. Photo/Provided

Now she already has two years of work experience on her resume, first at the U.S. Department of Defense contractor L3 Technologies and then at Tesla in Palo Alto, California, where she worked on superchargers and home energy devices.

“The company culture was very diverse. I was one of two or three Americans working with people from all over the world,” O’Connor said. “That diversity really contributes to Tesla’s success. Having people from diverse backgrounds often means people tackle problems in new ways.”

Her last co-op was with Apple, a telecommuting position because of the pandemic. 

“But they did a fantastic job of making the virtual experience feel like normal,” O’Connor said. “It was a dream opportunity for me.”

O’Connor this year was awarded the college’s Herman Schneider Medal, given to exemplary co-op students. At UC, Schneider was the first in the country in 1906 to introduce and pioneer co-op, now a fundamental part of the UC experience.

Apple offered O’Connor a full-time position after graduation. She hopes to move to California when the pandemic permits.

“I loved my time at UC. I can confidently say I wouldn’t have gotten this job if I hadn’t gone to UC,” O’Connor said. “My schooling helped prepare me for these jobs. I really enjoyed the classes. I liked my labs. They helped teach me to problem solve and think for myself. The work ethic developed in the program taught you to go the extra mile.”

UC students celebrate commencement.

UC on Friday will host its first in-person commencement since the COVID-19 pandemic. Pictured: Darwin T. Turner scholars celebrate their honors. Photo/Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative + Brand

Lifelong learning

Associate Professor Ayman Mahdy, MD, wears many hats in the UC College of Medicine and the Department of Surgery at UC Medical Center. He is the interim director of urology, director of Voiding Dysfunction and Female Urology, urology medical director at the UC affiliate hospital in suburban Cincinnati and the R. Bruce and Barbara Bracken endowed chair in surgical urology. 

Portrait of Dr. Ayman Mahdy.

UC College of Medicine's Dr. Ayman Mahdy. Photo/Provided

But on Friday, he will wear a graduation cap and tassel to celebrate receiving his master’s degree in business administration (MBA).

“You can probably tell time-management was the hardest part,” Mahdy said. “I am a full-time clinician and also serve a few administrative roles. What helped was the flexibility of the online classes and the support from instructors and staff to get assignments done.” 

Mahdy said UC’s MBA program appeals to professionals from all backgrounds. 

“The MBA covers four major areas relating to finance, marketing, operations and management,” Mahdy said. “I really enjoyed it. The areas that most benefited me are the management courses I had about leadership in health care.” 

He and his wife, Mona, are raising four children ages 6 to 17. On Friday, Mahdy plans to bring his boys Ahmed and Nasr to celebrate commencement. Both teens are contemplating their own educational futures.

“Ahmed wants to go to medical school while Nasr is thinking about business school,” he said. “I believe in lifelong learning. I decided to bring my two older children hopefully to inspire them.”

William Hackman poses with his family at the Bearcat Statue.

UC graduate William Hackman earned a master's degree from UC's College of Arts and Sciences in 1954 but missed commencement after he was drafted into the U.S. Army and shipped out to basic training. For his 91st birthday, his niece reached out to UC, which invited him to celebrate his accomplishment 67 years later. Photo/Ravenna Rutledge/UC Creative + Brand

Celebration postponed

William Hackman was poised to celebrate receiving his master’s degree from the College of Arts and Sciences during UC’s 1954 commencement when he was drafted in the U.S. Army and shipped out to basic training.

“I never got to the graduation ceremony. They sent my diploma through the mail,” he said. “I thought about what I missed from time to time.”

William Hackman poses by the Bearcat Statue.

UC graduate William Hackman spent 35 years teaching in Cincinnati Public Schools. Photo/Ravenna Rutledge/UC Creative + Brand

When he turned 91 this month, niece Stephanie Hackman surprised him by arranging an invitation from UC to participate in the Bearcat Walk at Fifth Third Arena as part of this year’s commencement. Now, 67 years after earning his master’s degree, the retired Cincinnati Public Schools teacher could wear his cap and gown and be recognized publicly.

“My niece made the arrangements. I knew nothing about it,” he said. “She’s always been very considerate. I don’t know what I would have done the past year during the pandemic without her help.”

After serving two years in the Army, Hackman said his bachelor’s degree in education and his master’s degree in social studies at UC launched a 35-year career in education in Cincinnati. Countless of his students graduated from college as well.

“I was teaching college-prep classes. I had very good students,” he said. “Most of them went to college and became professionals. So I am pleased about that.”

William Hackman poses with his family at the Bearcat Statue.

UC graduate William Hackman took part in the Bearcat Walk before commencement. Photo/Ravenna Rutledge/UC Creative + Brand

Featured image at top: UC graduate Brittany Collier celebrates commencement on Myers Field at Gettler Stadium. Photo/Ravenna Rutledge/UC Creative + Brand

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