JUST IN: Delayed FAU graduation ceremony joyous, defiant

Some people were angry. Some were sad. Some were defiant. Some were stoic. Many weren’t here at all.

On Tuesday, Florida Atlantic University staged a belated re-do of a once-in-a-lifetime commencement someone had stolen on Aug. 7 with a threat on a note stuck to a mirror. 

Of the 462 graduates who last week were moments away from taking their walk of pride, only 261 did so Tuesday. Many already had gone back to hometowns far away, or already had started new jobs, or just didn’t want to do it all over again.

Photos: FAU students decorate caps for 2018 graduation ceremony

Those who walked Tuesday at the school’s 122nd commencement were defiant and joyous, as were the 1,000 or so people who cheered them. The grads entered under “Pomp and Circumstance,” their navy robes bedecked with colorful sashes and their mortarboards decked out with crazy homemade designs.

The Aug. 7 ceremony had been set for the 2,500-seat Kaye Performing Arts Auditorium, which has events this week, so the ceremony was moved to the basketball arena. About 30 students who were out of state or out of town and had to get back were offered their own small ceremony Thursday at the college’s administration building; 15 attended.

“I know this is not how you envisioned your graduation,” FAU President John Kelly said Tuesday, repeating what he’d told the group of 15 on Thursday. He praised campus and Boca Raton police for their response and said, “I’m very glad all of you could make arrangements to be here today.”

University police still are investigating the “credible threat,” written on a note discovered in a restroom at a business building. They haven’t said what was written on the note, but said it targeted the ceremony, about to start.

Kelly drew big laughs when he urged graduates to “bring out the cellphone you were not supposed to bring with you” and send out on Twitter a giant group “selfie.” And then put those phones away.

At least week’s last-minute evacuation, “It was just — it was crazy,” said psychology graduate Paula Santana, decked for the second time in cap and gown and waiting, for the second time, to get in line for her walk.

“All that anticipation builds up,” she said. And when the event was called off and the building cleared out, “all I did was just laugh. It was so unreal,” she said. “Then we started worrying about our family members.”

Kaytelyn Wetmore of the Orlando suburb of Winter Garden, had brought down last week a party of eight; parents, siblings, friends. 

“I was sure I would go back” for Tuesday’s ceremony, the biosciences grad said. Her entourage also came back down, except the brother who had to start classes at the University of Central Florida, and a best friend who had flown down from the New York area and couldn’t return.

Even for Paula Santana, who lives in the West Palm Beach area and so didn’t have far to come, “I still told myself, ‘Should I go?’ 

She’d already started a job at an insurance company and now had to ask for an unanticipated day off. But she said her employer was understanding.

In all, 1,850 had been eligible to get degrees, making this the largest summer graduating class since the school opened in 1961. But so many had not been able to return Tuesday.

“It’s a big deal, graduation,” said psychology grad Kristian Rivera of Pembroke Pines. “They’ll miss the chance.”

Rivera didn’t for a moment second-guess FAU’s decision. And he had choice words for whoever pulled what he said likely was a prank, or an act of frustration at some perceived slight, with dramatic consequences for so many.

“They should be ashamed,” he said. “And not take their anger on those who completed their work.”

Political science graduate Blake Landis is from Vero Beach but had lived in Boca Raton for five years. His parents, girlfriend and others were able to come back down. He said some fellow graduates who had not been able to return refused to dwell on their loss.

“We live in such a crazy society that you just live in the moment,” he said, “and not let a bad time ruin it.”

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