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Cheers erupted and fireworks blasted around Bobcat Stadium this weekend as members of the Montana State University graduating class of 2021 tossed their caps to celebrate their accomplishments.

Saturday’s two in-person commencement ceremonies honored the university’s most recent graduates, who attended classes, worked with professors, collaborated on projects and ultimately finished their degrees during a pandemic.

MSU Spring Commencement

Approximately 1,650 Montana State University graduates attended the spring commencement ceremonies on Saturday, May 1, 2021, at Bobcat Stadium. The 134th commencement ceremony was held outside for the first time to minimize the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

In total, about 2,500 students graduated with bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral and associate degrees and certificates, according to MSU.

“We at Montana State University wish you every success and happiness. And we thank you for making us feel so proud today,” MSU President Waded Cruzado said Saturday morning. “Getting a diploma from Montana State University — it’s always hard work. But particularly for these students.”

MSU Spring Commencement

President Waded Cruzado address graduates at Montana State University's morning spring commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 1, 2021, at Bobcat Stadium. The 134th commencement ceremony was held outside for the first time to minimize the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

The approximately 700 students who turned out in the morning sat in chairs spaced out around the field. One by one, they circled the field, crossed a stage and picked up their diplomas. About 2,300 guests watched from the stands.

MSU Spring Commencement

Approximately 1,650 Montana State University graduates attended the spring commencement ceremonies on Saturday, May 1, 2021, at Bobcat Stadium. The 134th commencement ceremony was held outside for the first time to minimize the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

Another 1,000 students participated in the commencement ceremony on Saturday afternoon, according to university staff. They brought approximately 2,800 guests with them.

Saturday was the first time MSU held commencement at Bobcat Stadium. Usually the event takes place at the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse, but this year the setting was changed to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission.

Students were allowed to bring four guests to the event. The university required masks and social distancing.

MSU Spring Commencement

A Montana State University graduate blows a kiss to the crowd during the MSU morning spring commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 1, 2021, at Bobcat Stadium. The 134th commencement ceremony was held outside for the first time to minimize the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

Graduate Shannon Murphy said she’s thankful for all the connections she now has in Montana. Originally from Minneapolis, Murphy picked MSU because it gave her an opportunity to go into research and see a new place, she said.

Murphy graduated from the College of Letters and Sciences with a Bachelor of Science in mathematics. She plans to move to North Carolina in June to attend graduate school at Duke University. Her ultimate goal is to get a master’s degree in biostatistics.

MSU Spring Commencement

Approximately 1,650 Montana State University graduates attended the spring commencement ceremonies on Saturday, May 1, 2021, at Bobcat Stadium. The 134th commencement ceremony was held outside for the first time to minimize the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

It was a bummer she wasn’t able to get many face-to-face interactions in classes this year, but Murphy felt MSU adjusted to the pandemic well. She’s looking forward to seeing another Brawl of the Wild in the future.

Graduate Julia Nielson enjoyed the community of people she met at the MSU College of Arts and Architecture. It felt like being part of a “Bobcat family,” she said.

MSU Spring Commencement

Announcers read the graduates' names from behind plexiglass booths during the spring commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 1, 2021, at Bobcat Stadium. The 134th commencement ceremony was held outside for the first time to minimize the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

Originally from Billings, Nielson started her college career studying civil engineering at Colorado State University. But she later realized she wanted to pursue something that required less math and gave her a creative outlet.

Nielson transferred to MSU for its architecture program partially because it has small class sizes, she said. Now, she’s celebrating her Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Design.

MSU Spring Commencement

A graduate jumps up to high-five family members after the morning spring commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 1, 2021, at Bobcat Stadium. The 134th commencement ceremony was held outside for the first time to minimize the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

“I couldn’t have done it without my family,” she said.

It won’t be long before Nielson is back in school. She plans to work toward a master’s degree in architecture at MSU this fall.

The university awarded two honorary doctorates at Saturday’s events. One was given in honor of William J. Tietz, who led the university as its president from 1977 to 1990.

The other was given to renowned childhood trauma expert Todd Garrison, who spoke at the afternoon ceremony. Garrison has trained thousands of officials across Montana about the importance of dealing with childhood trauma, MSU wrote.

The university announced plans to present a doctorate to William Tietz last year before commencement, according to his son John Tietz. However, that commencement was canceled due to COVID-19.

MSU Spring Commencement

New Montana State University graduates throw their caps in the air amid fireworks at the end of the spring commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 1, 2021, at Bobcat Stadium. The 134th commencement ceremony was held outside for the first time to minimize the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

William Tietz died on June 10, 2020. He was 93.

At Saturday’s ceremony, John Tietz was given an honorary doctorate on his father’s behalf.

William Tietz helped develop undergraduate core curriculum, expand international studies, reactivated the university honors program and supported educational opportunities for Native Americans, according to MSU.

“(My father) spread his enthusiasm and can-do attitude widely, convincing both faculty and students to believe in themselves and go after their goals,” John Tietz said.

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Helena Dore can be reached at hdore@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628.

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