RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT)- Often times, seniors serve as the backbones of teams. Richmond swimming and diving is no different.
"The DNA of our future teams will be linked to the DNA of these seniors," noted Spiders' head coach Matt Barany.
However, the five seniors on Richmond’s roster had their final semester cut short. Despite not being on campus, the swimmers and divers have still been taking part in weekly meetings over Zoom. The seniors logged on for the final meeting of the year this past Sunday but quickly started to pick up on the fact that something was different.
“My mom comes up over my shoulder and she’s all dressed up, and I’m like ‘what are you doing?’” recalled Lexie Gilbert.
“We were texting in a group chat and everyone was like ‘are your families being weird?’” added Sydney Weiskopf.
Each senior had also received a package earlier in the week with specific instructions not to open the box until Sunday afternoon at 4:00. When they were finally granted access to the Zoom meeting, more than just their teammates were waiting for them.
"There were over 200 people on it and something was happening, I had no idea what it was," Gilbert exclaimed.
It was a virtual graduation. Gilbert, Weiskopf, Maddy Chao, Eliza Manning and Hannah Gouger entered the meeting to find numerous friends, family members, teammates and alumnae awaiting them. Head coach Matt Barany had planned the event, reaching out to a friend at USA Swimming who was able to help get him in touch with Olympic gold medalist Maya DiRado-Andrews, and after he was able to secure her as keynote speaker, the university helped him get everything else into place.
And as for that mysterious package that had been delivered to each senior, it contained a graduation cap and gown, courtesy of Spider alumnae.
"I started tearing up immediately because I couldn't believe that it was happening," Chao said.
"Not only were they looking at their cap and gown, but they also wanted to see the screen," observed Barany. "It was their way of looking at other people as they do this."
After the graduates donned their appropriate attire, the ceremony began with an invocation from university chaplain Rev. Dr. Craig Kocher, followed by remarks from Dr. Ronald Crutcher, Richmond's President. After two other speakers, DiRado-Andrews addressed the group.
"To have her give us advice on life and to speak directly to the five of us, that was something that was so cool and something I'll remember forever," smiled Gilbert.
"They're going to be able to say that 'Maya DiRado was my own personal keynote speaker,'" added Barany. "I think for them, for a swimmer, that's a special touch."
The seniors may not have gotten a walk across the stage, a handshake or a shout from the crowd, but in a way, they may have gotten better- a customized commencement ceremony, tailored to their craft.
"Having all of our teammates there honestly meant more than being in a ginormous room with a bunch of people that we didn't even really know," said Chao.
“All of these alumni and family members, people who wouldn’t normally get to be at a graduation, got to see it,” Weiskopf added.
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