Saturday was a unique graduation day for many students in the Lehigh Valley and beyond.

There has been no gathering of large crowds, no parties, and no marching to the tune of "Pomp and Circumstance." But the class of 2020 still found ways of celebrating.

Many schools, including Kutztown University, Moravian College, Cedar Crest College, and East Stroudsburg University, posted video tributes for the graduating seniors.

One of those seniors is Leila Bouchekouk, who said, she spent years dreaming about graduation day.

When she first found out the in-person graduation would be postponed, "...I think we all [the seniors] took maybe a week to grieve."

"We didn't have those physical interactions with our friends, the support system that we've been establishing for four years," Bouchekouk added.

However, she said, the online celebration was "the next best thing." ESU's video included speeches from the university president, and from Bouchekouk, who was the student keynote speaker.

Bouchekouk was also just awarded with one of ESU's highest honors, the University Service Award.

She now plans to pursue a career in healthcare policy.

"I didn't think it was possible, my father came to America with $200 hoping he could make his children's lives better, same with my mom," Bouchekouk said. "The sacrifices they had to make, the sacrifices I had to make, things that didn't seem possible, and getting the biggest award at ESU, I can't explain what that means."

Penn State Lehigh Valley Campus also got in on the action this weekend, holding a virtual graduation ceremony. Saschelle Mandoza was one of the 75 Penn State Lehigh Valley graduates.

Donning her cap and gown, and marching down to her living room, she received her bachelor's degree in corporate communications.

"My family decorated the house, and we had like balloons set up," Mandoza said.

However, this degree did not come easy.

"I'm just really glad to be done. Last semester was just really hard," Mandoza recalled. "...literally I fought for this degree."

That's because during her last semester, Saschelle was also fighting breast cancer.

"It was just really hard going through the surgeries and just in pain sometimes, not wanting to take the pain medication cause, you know, it has an effect on you," Mandoza said.

In spite of all that, Mandoza graduated with high honors. She credits her family in helping to see her through the darkness.

"I don't know how I would have went through it without them, I don't know how and I really dedicate this degree to them," Mandoza said through tears.

While she may not have had a traditional graduation, Mandoza said she's grateful for all life experiences, both good and bad. That's because those experiences ultimately they've inspired her to lead a life of service to others.

"[I] try to be a beacon of light if not just for myself for others, cause you never know what someone else is going through," Mandoza said.

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