ARLINGTON, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – Hundreds of graduates from the University of Texas at Arlington are walking across the stage Thursday at Globe Life Field, in the university’s first in-person ceremonies since December 2019.

Donning a cap and gown marks the culmination of years of hard work, and the ability to celebrate in a more traditional manner isn’t lost on the graduates.

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“I was thinking ‘Ugh, we’re just going to have a virtual graduation or something,’ and then when they finally said that we’re going to have an in-person commencement ceremony, I was like I can’t miss this,” said Catherine Martinez, who is graduating from UT Arlington’s nursing school. “This is a very big moment. I want my friends, my family here. I want to celebrate this moment. So I’m very happy today is happening.”

There will be eight different commencement ceremonies at the stadium over the next three days, in an effort to limit crowd sizes.

“When the opportunity arose for something in person, I didn’t have to think about it,” said Brian Cisneros, who is also graduating from the nursing school. “I just went in and registered because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”

For some, Thursday’s commencement marks the start of a career. For others, it’s a chance to take theirs to the next level.

“I’ve been a nurse for the last 23 years, but it’s taken me forever because I’ve had four kids and a family to take care of,” said Jenny Glenn, who can now become a nurse practitioner with her Master’s degree.

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The pandemic threw challenges at all the students.

“It was really hard, especially with COVID, because we had to homeschool them for awhile while I was doing my clinicals, which took a lot out of me,” Glenn said.

Classes went fully online at one point, and some nursing students struggled to get hands-on learning.

Cisneros volunteered at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic to give him practice injecting shots.

“I personally got to vaccinate around 100 people, so I have experience now,” he said.

None of UT Arlington’s 2020 graduates were able to have in-person ceremonies, so the university is giving them a second chance to walk the stage this week.

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At 7 p.m. Thursday, last year’s nursing school graduates will get to be a part of a commencement ceremony at Globe Life Field, and UTA expects it to be almost as well attended as the ceremony for this year’s grads.

Caroline Vandergriff