On Saturday, U of M graduated its largest in-person class in a semester

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Before Natalia Salvador Ellis graduated from the University of Memphis yesterday, her husband, Timothy Ellis, had a dozen red roses to complement his cap and gown.

But years earlier, these flowers could have adorned a coffin.

“She was out for a run one day and she had a really bad accident,” Ellis’ sister-in-law, Karissa Huey, said as he handed over the narration to her.

“She already had a bachelor’s degree and a major in business and communications, and she worked for a Big Ten network. But he [the accident] left her with a traumatic brain injury.

Austin Garcia's family cheers as he passes after receiving his degree at the University of Memphis graduation ceremony on Saturday, May 7, 2022 at FedExForum.

It also derailed his career, Huey said.

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But Ellis recovered, and after moving to Memphis from Athens, Georgia, where she met and married her husband, she enrolled at U of M to pursue a degree in exercise science, sport and movement.

As thousands packed the halls of the FedEx Forum with family and friends on Saturday to coordinate U of M’s early spring seat searches, Ellis, Huey and her daughter from 16-year-old Jayden enjoyed Ellis’ triumph.

He was part of a bigger one.

Graduate students, faculty and attendees stand during the University of Memphis graduation ceremony Saturday, May 7, 2022 at FedExForum.

A record number of U of M students – 2,713 – were due to receive diplomas yesterday. This is the most in-person graduates from the school in one semester.

These figures led the school to organize three beginnings. The first was at 10 a.m., the second at 1:30 p.m. and the last at 5 p.m.

Relatives and supporters of the graduates didn’t just celebrate them with roses, cheers and group selfies taken in the hallways of the forum.

Some, like Cynthia Farmer, and her loved ones wore their pride for her daughter, Anniken Farmer, on their chests.

And their faces.

Kristin Jones, right, helps her friend Carleigh Gingery put on her graduation cap before the University of Memphis graduation ceremony Saturday, May 7, 2022, at FedExForum.  Jones and Gingery have been friends since college and graduate alongside the MSN Family Nurse Practitioner credentials.

They all donned long-sleeved T-shirts emblazoned with Anniken Farmer’s image, name, degree, and class of 2022.

Oh, and Farmer also wore a matching face mask.

“I’m coming to see my daughter,” Farmer said. “She gets a BFA [Bachelor of Fine Arts degree] so I’m really proud of her…

“She wants to be in the entertainment business, so she majored in dance and acting. It’s been a struggle, going through the pandemic and all, but we’re here to support and encourage her…

Jaela Hammond cries as she hugs her mother Jacqueline Hammond after graduating with a bachelor's degree in sports and recreation management during the University of Memphis graduation ceremony Saturday, May 7, 2022, at FedExForum.

“This is just the beginning for her.”

Kick-off speaker Richard C. Shadyac Jr., president and CEO of ALSAC, the fundraising arm of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, also urged graduates to consider earning their graduation as a start; as a springboard to shape a better world.

He recalled the legacy of actor Danny Thomas, who founded St. Jude in 1962 as the first fully integrated children’s specialty hospital in the South.

A graduate student waves to the crowd as she enters the University of Memphis graduation ceremony Saturday, May 7, 2022, at FedExForum.

“Isn’t that the point of serving a mission?” To leave a lasting impact on the world that can reach beyond ourselves and reach other people we don’t even know and probably will never meet,” Shadyac said.

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“I promise you graduates that you will get more service than you put into it. I promise you. The great athlete boxer Muhammad Ali said: Service to others is the rent you pay for your room on earth…

“How are you going to pay your rent?” »

Tonyaa Weathersbee can be reached at [email protected] and you can follow her on Twitter: @tonyaajw

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