Sierra Murphy, a business and Spanish student at Trinity College Dublin, never thought she'd get a chance to graduate in a gown alongside her friends and family.
“We’ve missed out on so many things, like our last Trinity ball, our last classes, our last exams and all those celebrations,” says Murphy (24),who was due to graduate last year.
On Wednesday, however, her wish finally came true: she was one of 60 students to graduate in the college’s first in-person graduation ceremony since the Covid-19 pandemic forced the closure of the campus in March 2020.
“I never thought I’d see this day come,” she said, after posing for a picture in the front square with her parents, Danica and Ken. “I’m so happy, delighted and over the moon. Most of my friends are graduating today so it’s a lovely send-off,” she said.
Trinity is the first university in Ireland to proceed with an in-person graduation event.
In keeping with Covid-19 protocols, the event was held in a marquee outdoors and attendance was limited to 60 students and 120 guests.
In all, a total of almost 1,000 students who would normally have graduated in 2020 are due to attend these small-scale ceremonies between the 11th and 20th of August.
There were also a series of safety tweaks to the traditional ceremony: there were no handshakes; each student had to sanitise their hands before picking up their parchment; and pods of three students at a time were allowed on stage, socially distanced.
"These are not graduation events as we have known them but Trinity has, since March 2020, tried to innovate as best it can to meet the needs of students in the face of the pandemic," said Trinity registrar Brendan Tangney.
“With appropriate safeguards in place, we believe our students had a memorable – and safe – graduation day.”
For Trinity's new provost, Prof Linda Doyle – the first woman to hold the post in 429 years – it was a rare chance to officiate at a public event on campus.
I've been taken aback by the level of emotion all day
“I’m really delighted that we could do something in person. The best thing about Trinity is our students and to be able to celebrate them is important,” she said.
“I’m really sorry we couldn’t accommodate everyone who wanted to be accommodated. I know some are disappointed, but this is great. I’ve noticed people working around front square being so delighted to see the vibrancy and life here. I’ve been taken aback by the level of emotion all day.”
It is also hoped to put on graduation events for graduates who, since the pandemic began, were awarded their degree in online ceremonies at a later date.
For those at Wednesday’s event, there was a sense that this was a hopeful sign of a return to some kind of normality.
“There really is light at the end of the tunnel – even the sun has come out today,” said Tom McGrath from Kilkenny, whose daughter Emma (28) graduated with a PhD in biochemistry.
“It’s one of the most enjoyable days possible – it is wonderful to see your child walk up and be handed a certificate for all the hard work they’ve done,” added Emma’s mother, Christina.
College friends Diarmuid O'Leary (23) and Avril Holton (24) from Kildare, who both graduated, in law and French, felt lucky to be able to celebrate after a year like no other.
“We’re grateful to get this chance after such a long wait,” said Holton from Kildare. “It is so nice to celebrate the occasion in person, when so many of our friends didn’t have that option.”
“I lived in hope that this day would arrive,” said O’Leary. “It’s nice to take stock now and bask in the achievements after a hard year.”
There were similar emotions for Conor Dowling (30). He received a PhD in urban resilience and was there to celebrate with his partner Becky and five-month-old daughter Bláithín.
“I think we all thought this would just be online, but it’s lovely to be able to celebrate this with family and everyone who’s supported us along the way.”