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USC Sumter graduates walk across the stage for the first time since the pandemic

Guests wore masks and the event hosted outside for the first time, campus leaders say.

SUMTER, S.C. — Students from the University of South Carolina Sumter returned for in-person graduation Wednesday.

Last year, the campus hosted a drive-thru ceremony because of the coronavirus.

Like most things, it looked a little different.

Guests wore masks and it was hosted outside for the first time, according to campus leaders.

Roughly 200 students graduated, but less than half actually walked during the ceremony.

Kara Samuels was among them.

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After graduating with highest honors from the Sumter campus, she said she’s hoping to head to Columbia’s campus next year to continue her education with hopes of becoming a psychiatrist.

“There were a lot of life lessons learned and I know that I’m going to be able to use those lessons and skills that I learned in the rest of my life,” Samuels said.

While it was a milestone for graduates, it was also one for campus staff after a year of changes due to the pandemic.

“It’s hard not to be excited when you see all these folks, the culmination of all their hard work coming together, and family and friends celebrating,” Campus Dean Michael Sonntag said. “It has been a rough, rough year, plus. We’ve been very, very fortunate. Our faculty banded together and pivoted back in March, a year ago, and got all the courses online and that really made all the difference, that we moved quickly and we moved as a team, and it just feels good to see our success now. We haven’t lost students. In fact, we grew last year in enrollment a little bit … and I think we’re a better team today because of it.”

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The spring semester has been primarily online, university leaders say, but, in the summer, all classes that were face-to-face before the coronavirus will return to in-person with some courses having an online option.

They’re hoping to be back to primarily in-person operations in the fall.