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As the students took their assigned seats, they were welcomed to Saint Ambrose University's first in-person graduation ceremony in more than a year.

About 150 SAU graduate students walked out of the TaxSlayer Center with their degrees on Friday.

MOLINE, Ill. — Saint Ambrose graduate students received their degrees on Friday night at the university's in-person commencement ceremony.

Although the ceremony was in person, it looked different than others in years past. But even with the differences, students were grateful the ceremony could happen at all.

As the students took their assigned seats, they were welcomed to Saint Ambrose University's first in-person graduation ceremony in more than a year. 148 graduate students received their degrees at the ceremony.

"I don’t remember the last time I was in a room with this many people, so this is exciting," said graduate Nick Colwell.

Colwell graduated with a master's degree in public health.

"When I first started the public health program, people would ask me all the time: what is that, what are you gonna do with that, and those questions certainly stopped about a year and a half ago," Colwell said.

Colwell said he feels lucky the ceremony is even possible. He graduated from SAU in 2009 with his undergraduate degree. This latest graduation looked quite different. 

Masks were required by everyone inside. Chairs were spaced socially distant. And, students were only given two tickets for guests to accompany them at commencement.

"This is very different, but I don’t think it’s different in a bad way," said Elizabeth Braun.

Braun just graduated with her doctoral degree in occupational therapy.

"Even having our two guests here to make that intimate ceremony, it feels really special," Braun said.

Another change: graduates did not come up to and cross the stage. Instead, the ceremony happened at each student's chair, with family helping along the way.

"Maybe at first it wasn't what I wanted it to be," Braun said. "I don't think it's what any of us truly want it to be, but it's still special, and its unique."

It was also a chance for Braun to say a proper goodbye to her classmates, after many students left campus because of the pandemic.

"I just think it makes this reunion all the more special," Braun said.

The students were reunited for the first time in a year, giving the graduates one more thing to celebrate.

SAU has its undergraduate commencement ceremony on Saturday at 1 p.m. The university is live streaming that ceremony for family and friends who cannot attend in person. You can find that stream at this page. You can also watch Friday's graduate student commencement ceremony on-demand at that same link.

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