The pandemic wasn’t stopping Leotte Harrell’s graduation dance

Leotte Harrell graduated from St. Petersburg College and danced across her husband’s homemade stage to receive her bachelor’s degree in Educational Studies and Community Leadership.

BY KARIN DAVIS-THOMPSON, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — When Leotte Harrell learned her college graduation would have to be virtual because of COVID-19, she was heartbroken.

“I was devastated,” she said. “It was literally my one motivating thought from the time I re-entered college, and it took me 26 years to finally go back!”

When her husband saw how much walking across that stage meant to his wife, he came up with a plan.

Leotte Harrell was anticipating what her big day would be like in the days leading up to graduation.

“My goal, my vision, my dream was to walk across the stage, do my little dance and get my bachelor’s degree,” she said.

The 48-year-old said the news of going virtual was especially tough to take since the school, St. Petersburg College, hosted a live ceremony just two weeks before telling her group that they would not be able to have the same experience.

Her husband, Bryant Harrell, said he hated to see his wife disappointed and began researching what he could do to lift her spirits. He found inspiration on the Internet – where a father created a graduation experience for his child. He was convinced he could make something similar for his wife.

“It took about eight weeks to put it all together, contacting friends and family, getting help from the community,” Bryant Harrell said.

The end result? An actual graduation ceremony, complete with outdoor seating for guests, a speaker, and most of all, the stage for his wife’s graduation dance. Thanks to her husband, Leotte Harrell got the chance to dance across a graduation stage.

Bryant Harrell said his wife’s reaction was all the thanks he needed.

“She was in shock and overjoyed,” the 55-year-old said.

Leotte Harrell said she couldn’t believe all her husband had done to make her graduation memorable and what she dreamed about.

“I was stunned,” she said.  “He built a complete stage across our yard, complete with decorations, chairs for the audience, and the yard was completely decorated.”

Along with planning the ceremony with close family and friends in attendance, Bryant Harrell also arranged a drive-by parade.

“I almost fainted,” she exclaimed.

Bryant Harrell said planning the ceremony and parade was his way of letting his wife know how proud he was of all she had accomplished.

“I love my wife,” he said. “She worked very hard for the past four years, spending late nights pushing into the dawn of morning and then getting up to go work.”

Hearing his wife cry as the school announced in-person graduation wouldn’t be possible, he knew he had to act.

“I just had to make one [a graduation] just for her.”

Leotte Harrell said knowing that her husband loves her enough to plan something this detailed just for her means more than she can say.

“This was the kindest thing anyone has ever done for me,” she stated.  “It just made me fall in love with him all over again. I can’t believe I am blessed enough to call him my husband.”

Leotte Harrell graduated from St. Petersburg College and danced across the stage with a bachelor’s degree in Educational Studies and Community Leadership.

To reach Karin Davis-Thompson, email kdavis-thompson@theweeklychallenger.com

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