Graduating one semester apart, brothers walk together at commencement

When Jaylen Reinhart's graduation ceremony transitioned online last fall due to the pandemic, he participated, celebrated with his family, and moved on to working as a Project Engineer for a construction company in Ohio. 

He refocused his excitement on his younger brother Tyler's upcoming graduation in the spring and looked forward to celebrating his brother's success.

When UF announced a few months later that every graduate who missed their in-person commencement would have an opportunity for a make-up in-person recognition ceremony, Jaylen looked forward to returning to Florida to attend his own graduation ceremony as well as his brother’s. But the two ceremonies were scheduled a week apart, which was longer than he could take off work. He decided to ditch his own ceremony and attend his brother’s.

Then another challenge: Due to the pandemic, each graduate can only have two guests. He e-mailed Stephanie McBride, director of commencements, and asked for help.

“Initially, Jaylen asked for an extra ticket so he could attend with his parents, but our safety protocols really don’t give much flexibility for exceptions,” McBride said. “I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be great if the two brothers could walk together at the same ceremony?’”

McBride encouraged him to apply to walk out of term.

Jaylen, who was an engineering major, joined Tyler during the College of Health and Human Performances ceremony on Thursday afternoon.

Jaylen and Tyler are among the nearly 10,000 graduates at the ceremonies, which celebrate the accomplishments of Spring 2021 graduates, as well as 2020 graduates who did not have in-person ceremonies due to the pandemic.

Turns out their mom had hoped her sons would graduate together for years.

"She always said, 'Oh, if your brother took a few more classes, the timing could line up. You two could graduate at the same time," Tyler Reinhart said.  

For Tyler, having an older brother at UF helped set a good foundation for his own college experience. 

"[Jaylen] got to figure out all the hard stuff before my freshman year, and when I started at UF he was just down the road at any point when I needed him," Tyler Reinhart said.

The brothers lived together after that, and Jaylen graduated one semester into Tyler's senior year. 

"It was my first semester not having him around at all. He was 15 hours away," Tyler Reinhart said. "It was a real turning point in my collegiate career."

After the ceremonies, Jaylen will return to his job in Ohio. Tyler plans to stay in Gainesville to enroll in the Master's in Sports Management program at UF and continue his work with the track team. 

"This graduation ceremony might be one of very few opportunities we will get to see everyone together as a family in the upcoming years because of the distance," Jaylen said. "We definitely will make the most of it." 

Emily Cardinali May 4, 2021