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Eckerd College graduates come from around world

A festive look with bright gowns and balloons marks the 37th commencement.

Balloons, beach balls, decorated caps and loud cheers spiced up Eckerd College's 37th commencement ceremony Sunday as about 350 graduates bid farewell to the school.

"It was a festive atmosphere," said Lloyd Chapin, Eckerd vice president and dean of faculty. "It all gives it a special flavor."

This year's graduating class was the largest in school history, with students coming from 49 states and 30 countries, from Iceland to India, said Ross Bannister, the school's director of public relations.

The ceremony, which began at 10 a.m. in the school's gym, followed Saturday night's graduation of students in the college's Program for Experienced Learners. (See accompanying story.)

Richard E. Lapchick, executive director of the National Consortium for Academics and Sports, was the speaker Sunday. He talked about improving race relations and the need for everyone to make a commitment to justice.

"The students were really quite gripped by (the message)," Chapin said.

Four students and a professor were recognized with award presentations during the ceremony. Jeffrey Howard received the distinguished teacher of the year award, Laura Estep received the outstanding academic achievement award, Daphne McFarlan received the outstanding community service award, Rebecca Root received the college service award and Nadji Kirby, who delivered the welcome address, received an award for her work in minority affairs.

Hundreds of friends and family loudly cheered as the students dressed in green, blue and red gowns filed into the auditorium.

"It was really upbeat," Bannister said.

The college held a reception after the graduation ceremony at the Hough Center, where graduates and their friends and family snacked on fresh fruit and pastries. Students mingled in the noon warmth as they said their goodbyes and introduced family members to professors and classmates.

"It was a beautiful day," Bannister said. "The sun was shining and the balloons were out."