FLORENCE — Shay Price remembers that day in March when she sat in a classroom for the last time.
"I didn't know the last day I went to class would be the last day I was ever going to go to class," Price said. "Never would I have expected anything like this in my lifetime, let alone when graduating from college."
Price was among University of North Alabama graduates who got to walk across the stage at North Auditorium this weekend. Like so many things throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, this commencement had some differences compared to past ones.
UNA held six commencements, spreading them out over Friday and Saturday to allow for social distancing among the audience. The ceremonies combined the spring and summer graduations since COVID-19 caused the cancellation of May's spring commencement.
Price earned her degree in spring after finishing that semester virtually.
"I never got to say goodbye to my friends and teachers," she said. "It just came to a crashing halt. I already have a diploma, so walking doesn't seem necessary, but I said I'd do it so I'm going to follow through with it."
Each graduate was limited to four guests, although UNA streamed the ceremonies on its social media pages.
"It would've been nice to not have to cut down on the amount of people who can come, but I understand," Price said.
Like all graduates and their guests, Dvarius Holmes stood in line outside Norton Auditorium before the ceremonies while UNA's commencement crew checked everyone's temperature, asked them whether they had any COVID-related symptoms, and showed them a seating chart.
Holmes said the commencement was the conclusion to a unique ride.
"It's been a hectic year, but I'm just glad it's over," he said. "But it's good. It worked out."
Kristan Miller said she didn't have to handle the altered completion to the year on her own.
"I've had a really good support system with my family and friends being there through it — and my wonderful professors," Miller said.
Still, she said it wasn't easy.
"It was OK, just very stressful," Miller said, "way more stressful than being in the classroom."
The exercise science degree recipient had to do her internship online due to the pandemic.
"There were a lot of videos," she said.
Anna Mason also missed out on an internship due to the switch to virtual instruction, but was able to secure a job teaching at Vance Elementary School in Tuscaloosa.
"It's been crazy, trying to do job interviews," Mason said, while wearing a mask that reads "Welcome to Third Grade."
"I had to do virtual interviews," she said. "I didn't get an internship, so I'll be going into my first day of teaching without that experience."