Thousands of college students across Orange County will put a cap on their academic careers as commencement ceremonies continue over the next several weeks.

With a stride across stage to collect their diplomas, many will be the first in a couple of years to experience a day most resembling pre-pandemic graduation.

Students at some of OC’s community colleges that held virtual events last year and in 2020, such as Irvine Valley College and Orange Coast College, will get a chance to walk the stage and celebrate surrounded by their peers and family.

At two of Orange County’s most prominent institutions — UC Irvine and Chapman University — this year’s celebrations will feature university-wide ceremonies inviting all grads across the schools. Smaller, individual college events honoring distinct degrees will also take place at each university.

Cal State Fullerton decided to pass on the big ceremony honoring all grads that it’s held in the past, recognizing instead separate colleges during events over four days. The break-up isn’t because of COVID-19, though, spokesman Chi-Chung Keung said, but rather input from students, who in surveys and conversations indicated they preferred to forgo the large event.

On a day that is the “ultimate climax for students and their families,” being able to celebrate in person “is a tremendous thrill for everyone involved,” Keung said.

Last year, Irvine Valley College held an online commencement ceremony followed by a drive-thru event, where grads and their supporters wound through campus passing by booths of administrators cheering them on.

During the in-person ceremony this year, on May 26, the community college is expecting more students than ever to walk — estimating 450 as of Tuesday — said IVC spokeswoman Diane Oaks, a fact that “speaks to that anticipation of students being anxious to come back and participate.”

“We have students who have just persevered during COVID,” Oaks said, adding that many students have plans to transfer to prestigious universities —  including ones in the UC and CSU systems — after retrieving their IVC diploma.

“So that in and of itself, I think, is a celebration,” she said.

Santiago Canyon College, which is holding its June 3 ceremony on its Orange campus, invited 2021 grads along with this year’s class to be honored during the event. As of Wednesday, about 250 students had submitted an RSVP to attend.

UC Irvine’s commencement honoring more than 8,000 students at Angel Stadium will be the first time since 2014, when President Barrack Obama was the commencement speaker, that the school will host an all-grad ceremony.

Actor and writer Kal Penn, whose breadth of movie and TV credits include “Harold & Kumar,” “Designated Survivor” and “House,” will give the graduation address on June 15. Penn was also an associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement during the Obama administration.

The event at the stadium will be a “capstone” to the school’s graduation celebrations, which are scheduled over several days in May and June, recognizing students across a number of schools of study. Grads will have their stage-walk moment during those individual events.

Students who weren’t able to attend their commencement in person in 2020 or 2021 because of the pandemic can ask to participate in the big ceremony, too, though the current class will have seat priority, the university said in a news release.

Angel Stadium being an outside venue, though not the reason selected by UCI officials, does bring “the benefits of a safer experience,” the release said.

UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman said the Angel Stadium event “is our chance to celebrate, as an entire campus, the accomplishments of our graduating students and their families.”

“They have demonstrated their resilience and perseverance over the last two difficult years, succeeding in and out of the classroom, and are prepared and eager to be our future workforce and leaders,” he said.

More than 2,500 graduates will collect their diplomas during ceremonies this weekend on Wilson Field at Chapman University, spokeswoman Cerise Valenzuela Metzger said. The university-wide event on Friday, May 20, will recognize all grads with a celebration that will include remarks from keynote speaker Nadia Murad, a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate who has detailed her 2014 captured by, and later escaped from, the Islamic State.

And another roughly 12,000 students are expected to walk during Cal State Fullerton’s ceremonies between May 23 and May 26. The university opted to do away with the all-campus event it had put on in years past after students said they “really feel a greater affinity to their colleges,” and preferred just one ceremony to commemorate their CSUF experience, Keung said.

The on-campus events will take place either at the 10,000-seat Titan Stadium or the nearby intramural field. And because the summer heat has been a concern in years past, ceremonies are purposely scheduled to take place either in the morning or evening, Keung said.

Seeing grads walk across stages in a more traditional event will be a joy for both the university’s staff and the students, Keung said, “because it represents so much for each family, that they can see the graduate walk across that stage in a fulfillment of their dreams and aspirations and sacrifice.”

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