Daniella Okezie has been practising her strut.
In a few weeks, the graduate of Wilfrid Laurier University will finally get a chance to walk across the stage at a convocation ceremony to mark the completion of the bachelor's program she finished two years ago.
It's something she's been eager to do ever since what she called an anticlimactic graduation in 2020, when she received her degree in the mail as the pandemic cancelled large in-person public events.
"It's like a burden or something has lifted off my chest, like I can finally commemorate all the work that I put in," Okezie says in a phone interview. "It might not be a big deal to a lot of people, but it just feels like that was stolen from us."
Several universities across Canada are planning in-person convocation ceremonies this year after a lengthy hiatus due to COVID-19. Some are also inviting graduates from 2020 and 2021, who missed out on in-person celebrations, to return for the experience.
For Okezie, who immigrated to Canada from Nigeria 10 years ago, the opportunity to pick up her diploma in person makes her feel all her hard work is paying off. The effort she's putting into her walk is one way she's preparing for the big day.
"I'm not gonna fall, I refuse to," the 24-year-old said with a chuckle. "You only get it once."
Universities say they recognize how important a graduation day can be for students.
"Convocation is a major milestone in our students' lives, it's a very special day not only for them but for their family and loved ones as well," Ryerson University president and vice-chancellor Mohamed Lachemi said in a written statement.
"To see our students cross the stage for the first time since fall 2019 will be a wonderful moment."
The University of British Columbia said it's hosting in-person graduation ceremonies at 100 per cent capacity to honour the class of 2022 this spring at its Vancouver and Okanagan campuses, while those who graduated in 2020 and spring 2021 virtually will be invited to a "specific celebration" in September.
Graduates in Vancouver are guaranteed two guest tickets, while there is no limit to the number of guests at ceremonies on the Okanagan campus. Both campuses will hold indoor events.
In the north, Yukon University said its convocation is scheduled for June 4, noting there will be one ceremony for graduates to cross the stage and receive their diplomas in front of family, guests and faculty on its Whitehorse campus.
"Our COVID-19 back-up plan is to hold a graduates-only event if pandemic protections limit gatherings," it said.
The University of Alberta said it's hosting in-person convocations in June and "exploring opportunities" to welcome graduates who were part of virtual ceremonies for an in-person celebration later this year.
McGill University in Quebec said it's happy to be celebrating fall 2021 and winter 2020 graduates in person in late May to early June. Students who graduated during the pandemic will have the opportunity to attend an in-person celebration during the spring as well, with dates to be finalized, McGill said.
In Ottawa, Carleton University said it's holding in-person convocation ceremonies over two weeks in June and will include graduates from 2020, 2021 and 2022.
Several other universities in Ontario including Laurier, Ryerson, the University of Waterloo, Queen's University, Western University and the University of Toronto are also planning in-person ceremonies for 2022 graduates, along with graduates from 2020 and 2021.
On the east coast, Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia said it's "cautiously optimistic" that it'll be able to celebrate convocation ceremonies "together on campus" this year. The university released tentative convocation dates for its 2022 graduates over a number of days in late May to early June, "while acknowledging that public health restrictions can change suddenly."
It's also planning a separate set of ceremonies for its 2020 and 2021 graduates, with details to be shared at a later date.
Most universities said they will be adhering to public health guidelines and that their plans may change depending on the COVID-19 situation in their provinces.
In December 2021, a COVID-19 outbreak was reported after an annual graduation ceremony at St. Francis Xavier University in northern Nova Scotia dubbed "X-Ring." Hundreds of cases were linked to X-Ring celebrations held on and off campus. The university didn't provide comment on convocation plans for this year.
For Okezie, the upcoming convocation ceremony is one she's looking forward to celebrating with family and friends.
"It's a big one," she says, "to go through four years of your life dedicated to something."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 25, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Noushin Ziafati, The Canadian Press