CHAMPAIGN, Ill., (WCIA) — Pomp and circumstance filled the streets of Champaign on Saturday, as thousands of Illini officially became new members of the alumni family.

Families and friends packed Memorial Stadium, while their loved ones moved their tassels from right to left.

Nearly 8,000 undergrads filled the turf, as well as graduate students and doctoral candidates. It was a day many have dreamed of for years, leaving students smiling, but also feeling bittersweet.

University of Illinois students sang “Hail to the Orange” for one final time and celebrated their accomplishments.

“At some parts of the ceremony, I got teary-eyed cause I’m thinking to myself, I’ve been working for this the last four years and now this is the big moment,” Lia Sansiper said.

And they looked ahead to their futures.

Zoe Mason, a graduate of the College of Education, has been excited about her time in orange and blue for as long as she can remember. She’s a third-generation Illini.

“This is the best school and I’m so thankful for my parents and everyone who came before us who have led the way for us to be here,” she said.

Emma Mize can relate, she followed in her dad’s footsteps as an Illini. She said she’s glad to carry on the legacy.

“When she was little, we have pictures of her in front of Alma Mater and Grange Grove,” Roy Mize said. “We took her to football games.”

It wasn’t always easy for the Class of 2023 with much of college online.

“Especially with COVID, two years were kind of nothing,” Bella Clifford, a graduate in Recreation, Sports and Tourism, said. “It’s nice to be able to celebrate in person and be with everyone. It’s surreal for sure.”

But, graduates said getting through the days of Zoom classes were worth it to be side by side with their classmates today.

“I loved sitting with my college and seeing all these people I’ve been going to class with since freshman year,” Taylor Munson said. “It’s like wow, I’ve met a lot of really cool people here and we all learned and did it together.”

Now, it’s time to celebrate and tailgate.

“It’s bringing it full circle football games and now a grad tailgate. We had to do it for the last big event! We’re all winners today,” the Mizes said.

Graduations for each individual college will continue on Saturday through Sunday evening across the U of I campus.