family arch

The Chenard family poses for a portrait with homemade UGA Arch. (Courtesy/Allison Chenard)

After hearing the news of the University of Georgia’s decision to switch to virtual instruction for her last semester, senior advertising major Allison Chenard was concerned about the fate of her graduating class’s commencement.

Like other graduates, Chenard was excited to participate in all of the traditions UGA seniors take part in after turning their tassels and receiving their diplomas. From walking under the Arch to ringing the Chapel bell, Chenard had anticipated celebrating her graduation in Athens. But in a turn of events, her commencement rituals took place in the front yard of her family home in Morrisville, North Carolina.

Days after what would have been her graduation ceremony, Chenard’s family teamed up to plan a surprise grad party with homemade versions of Athens’ most popular landmarks and traditions. The most noteworthy landmark they created was the Arch, which was constructed out of unconventional materials such as lumber and carpet rolls by Chenard’s younger brother, Matt Chenard.

“[The homemade arch] was mostly my mom’s idea,” Matt Chenard said. “She recognized that my sister was pretty upset about graduation being canceled and wanted to do something that would be memorable.”

After taking a hefty trip to the hardware store and spending nearly two whole days hard at work, Matt Chenard was able to complete a life-size arch perfect for his sister’s make-shift graduation rituals. However, Chenard was completely in the dark when it came to her family’s elaborate project.

“It was a complete surprise,” she said. “I had figured it was just going to be some sort of small celebration with food and red, black and white decorations and then we’d call it a day.”

After being suspiciously directed by her mother to “not schedule any Zoom calls for Saturday night,” and being whisked away by her father for a few hours, Chenard knew her family was up to something. Little did she know that upon returning home, the Classic City would be recreated in her very own front yard.

“I came back [home], and I was blown away,” Chenard said. “We celebrated with some fireworks, and then I got to walk under the arch while we played Redcoat [Marching Band] tunes. I even got to simulate ringing the bell by using our neighbor’s old farmer’s bell.”

Moving forward, Chenard plans to move to Rhode Island to pursue freelance media in the sailing industry. Referring to Rhode Island as the “Mecca of the sailing world,” she hopes to seize opportunities and connections in freelance until at least spring 2021.

Regardless of her move up north, Chenard plans to return to Athens for her postponed commencement ceremony in October 2020. She plans to finally have her highly-anticipated walk under the real UGA Arch.

“You only get one undergraduate graduation,” Chenard said. “And I would not miss that for anything in the world.”

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