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The Layun family watches the Florida Tech virtual graduation ceremony from their home. Dylan Layun graduated with his mechanical engineering degree.

Florida Today

It’s graduation day, and Dylan Layun’s robe hangs forgotten in the dining room.

Today, his regalia is a plaid button-down and blue jeans. Instead of his fellow graduates, he is nestled on the couch between his mother and his sister.

Like 1,236 other families, the Layuns are watching the Florida Institute of Technology’s spring 2020 commencement ceremony from home.

Friday night’s virtual ceremony is a first for the college, a sad but necessary result of the COVID-19 pandemic upending life across the nation. But it’s something, Dylan Layun says.

“At the end of the day I think all that matters is everyone’s safe,” says Layun, graduating with his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. “And it’s the same thing. It’s just you’re at home. (You) get to watch with your family, not your family watching you. And I think that’s pretty cool.”

The stripped-down service, broadcast live on YouTube, featured traditional opening remarks from Florida Tech President T. Dwayne McCay and Senior Vice President Bino Campanini; a reading of each student’s name; and a singing of the school’s alma mater.

More: Florida Tech students will return to campus in the fall, college president says

It almost didn’t happen at all.

As the danger of the new coronavirus became more apparent, the college first announced March 10 it would close commencement to families, opting for a graduates-only event as a precaution.

A week later, and shortly after the federal Centers of Disease Control and Prevention issued updated guidelines against public gatherings, officials decided to scrap commencement altogether.

Angelia Layun, Dylan Layun’s mother, says she and her husband were devastated.

“There’s these milestones in life that, you know, as a parent you always want to be part of,” says his father, Ricardo Layun.

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“I was not happy. Very upset,” Angelia Layun says.

At the urging of the Layuns and other families, it wasn’t long before McCay announced things had changed again, unveiling plans for the virtual commencement ceremony.

“I’m like, oh, that’s awesome. At least we get something,” Angelia Layun says. “This is something (students) work so hard for. … It’s something you can’t get back.”

Dylan Layun admits his parents probably care a little more than he does. Graduation itself was never something he was really concerned with, he says. He’s more looking forward to his new job as an engineer with aerospace and defense company Lockheed Martin, which begins in June.

And there are some positives.

“Now we get to be a family instead of having our family watch us as we go up on stage. So it’s really more of a family bonding exercise now,” he says. 

Ricardo Layun says its an attitude he’s seen again and again with the Florida Tech seniors he’s met.

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“I am absolutely impressed with these students,” Ricardo Layun says. “There’s a perception out there that kids nowadays are not able to cope with certain things. … These guys are hanging in with such strength.”

“They’re making the best of it,” he adds.

“(I’m) overwhelmed. Very proud of him,” says Angelia Layun. “It’s hard to believe he’s finishing college already.”

On the TV in the corner of the living room, just before the graduates’ names are read, McCay appears again to give his familiar avouchment.

“I hereby confer upon each of you the doctoral, master’s, bachelor’s or associate’s degree that you have earned, with all the rights, privileges and obligations thereto pertaining,” he says. “Congratulations, graduates.”

Ricardo Layun reaches over and gives his son a hearty handshake. Angelia Layun fights back tears.

“You did it, man,” she says, wrapping her arms around him.

Dylan Layun grins. “Thanks.”

Eric Rogers is the education watchdog reporter with FLORIDA TODAY.

Contact Rogers at 321-242-3717 or esrogers@floridatoday.com. Follow him on Twitter @EricRogersFT. Continue to support local journalism and become a subscriber.

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