ST. PETERSBURG — Walking across the stage is one of the few times during a graduation ceremony that the graduates can express themselves.
The students at University of South Florida St. Petersburg took that celebratory walk in a variety of ways during Sunday evening's commencement ceremony.
Some graduates pumped their fists and danced across the stage at the Mahaffey Theater, where the ceremony was held. One woman blew a kiss. College of Business graduate Alexander Patrick Moser stopped in the middle of the stage and Tebowed.
But of the 460 graduates (the largest graduating class in school history), there was one who didn't need to do anything special when she walked across the stage. Merely making that walk set Brittany Lyp apart.
Lyp, 21, is the first member of her extended family to get a college degree. And her path to higher education wasn't an easy one.
Her parents haven't worked in about eight years due to a variety of injuries. Gary Lyp, 55, was injured on the job as a baggage handler for United Airlines, and has undergone several back and neck surgeries. Lisa Lyp, 50, struggles with arthritis, and also has had back and knee surgeries.
For four years, Brittany balanced classes, a part-time job and internships while spending some weekends home mowing the lawn, vacuuming and doing other chores to help her parents.
Last semester she held down four internships while also working part-time at a UPS store in Palm Harbor, where she's been employed for six years. She graduated with honors Sunday, and was named the school's outstanding graduate by the USF Alumni Association.
Lyp's passion is the environment. She earned a bachelor's degree in environmental science and policy with a minor in leadership studies. She plans to go to graduate school and continue her focus on coral reefs.
But for her family, Brittany's undergraduate degree was accomplishment enough. "It wasn't a surprise at all," a beaming Gary said Sunday. "We always thought she would excel in whatever she put her mind to."
Brittany is the first Lyp to get a four-year degree, but she may not be the last. She has a 17-year-old sister, and several cousins. "Hopefully I'll be a role model for them," Lyp said after the ceremony. "I hope I'm the first of many."
Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or firstname.lastname@example.org.