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All smiles at ODU! 2020 graduating seniors get long-awaited in-person commencement

Robbed of a normal graduation ceremony, many returned to their Alma mater Thursday for a day, years in the making.

NORFOLK, Va. — If life was nothing but a collection of moments, then May 6, 2021, will forever live as a moment of happiness for many. 

“The feeling is just, I don’t know a word to describe it. If feelings could jump, it’d be at the moon right now," Christopher Spellman, a 2020 graduate of Old Dominion University, told 13News Now on Thursday. 

Life was different the last time Spellman was able to call ODU his home, as the COVID-pandemic hit the United States during the second semester of his senior year. Graduating seniors across the country had to forego in-person graduation ceremonies, missing out on a major milestone that often signals the start of a new chapter in one's life. 

“Your senior year is supposed to be fun, have the best time of your life, the last time you can be free," 2020 graduate Taryn Gilbert said.

"I forgot about saying goodbye really, it’s what I was looking forward to the most," Spellman said. 

While the pandemic robbed Spellman and his peers of their symbolic -- and often literal -- goodbyes, they returned to their alma mater a year later to relive that long-awaited day. 

Thursday, ODU honored its 2020 graduating class by hosting an in-person commencement for last year's graduating class. More than 1,200 2020 graduates pre-registered to attend the ceremonies at S.B. Ballard Stadium, divided into two separate commencements to accommodate for social distancing. 

Many of the graduates hadn't been back to ODU's campus since they "virtually" graduated and have already been working at post-grad jobs.

The post-grad life feels all the same, but they say at least now the milestone missed, now feels like a milestone earned. 

“It's kind of like I'm closing a chapter to my life, Gilbert said.

"Feels special," Spellman said. "It feels like a reunion."