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Turning their tassels

Turning their tassels

Turning their tassels

Students who ended high school during pandemic experience the pomp and circumstance of graduation

Last week, more than 1,100 Moody College students got the long-awaited graduation they had been yearning for, crossing the stage at the Moody Center to at last receive diplomas.

The 2024 graduating class finished their high school years in 2020 during the pandemic and were not able to have traditional high school graduation ceremonies. The importance of the moment was not lost on anyone in attendance Friday. 

 “Four years ago I went home for spring break and never returned to high school,” Communication Council President Madison Morris said during a moving speech. “Standing here and graduating in person with some of my family and closest friends is surreal to say the least.” 

Her remarks were met with both tears and loud applause. Midway through her speech, Morris turned around to take a selfie with the crowd of thousands behind her, including family and friends of graduates, to capture the moment.

"To my classmates: y’all are change makers, and I wholeheartedly believe that," said Morris, who is a first-generation graduate. "It’s so important to stand up for what you believe in, and I’ve seen firsthand how change is accomplished through strength in numbers. I hope you take what you’ve learned here at UT and use it to make a positive difference."

The ceremony was the first for Rachel Davis Mersey as Moody College dean. She handed out diplomas flanked by faculty and college leadership. Moody grads flashed smiles in their black robes and red stoles, many with caps decorated with their names, majors or sentimental messages. Even service dog Macaroni Bark, who attended every class with radio-television-film graduate Christian Bark, crossed the stage.

In her keynote address, Alison Eakle, chief content officer for the production company Shondaland, related her own experience graduating college right after 9/11, in what she called a moment of grief on a global scale.

“Perhaps counterintuitively, it encouraged me to move towards hope and community and telling stories that might make everyone feel less alone, and more seen,” she said.

Eakle shared her journey from acting to enlisting in the military to studying government and then to pursuing a career as a screenwriter. She graduated from Moody College with a Master of Fine Arts in screenwriting in 2006.

However, instead of working as a writer, she discovered, after many twists and turns, that she preferred working as an executive. Over the past two decades, she has co-produced some of the biggest shows on television, including “Queen Charlotte,” “How to Get Away with Murder” and the wildly acclaimed “Bridgerton,” which premieres its third season Thursday.

Eakle stressed to students the importance of “rewriting” in life and being comfortable changing course to discover your passion.

“As the exceptional graduates of Moody College, you’ll be asked to choose every day not only what you communicate with your voice, but the voices you amplify. You’ll be asked to help people actually hear each other,” Eakle said. “I cannot wait to see what you do with this immense power.”

Hear Eakle’s speech and see photos from last week’s ceremony.

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Moody College of Communication