COLUMBIA — In a waiting room not too far from Hearnes Center's main auditorium, before the ceremony began, seniors posed for pictures, accepted congratulations and chatted with friends and family as undergraduates for the very last time.
"This is so unreal," said Rebecca Bunton, an agriculture business management graduate. "I feel like I just got here yesterday."
"My best friend and I have gone to school together for 15 years, and this will be the last time we get to graduate together," said Jackie Fry, a hotel and restaurant management graduate. "I'm taken back by how fast it went. I can still remember my freshman year, and now I'm about to walk across the stage."
The ceremony for the College of Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources began at 3 p.m. at Hearnes Center. The college read off a list of 326 graduates this year.
The Dohrmans have watched two children of the family graduate from MU within the past four years, and the youngest just finished his freshman year at MU. John Dorhman, father of Megan Dorhman, said his daughter is ready to be out in the real world, but he knows she will miss college.
"She told us in the car earlier that graduating in four years is like leaving a party at 10:30," John Dorhman said.
Donna Register, a grandmother of a graduate, was smiling from ear to ear, awaiting the commencement where her grandson would become an "official adult."
"Today is a proud day to be a grandparent," she said.
Thomas Payne, vice chancellor and dean of the college, told students, "This isn't the end." He urged graduates to keep investing in themselves and others.
"Remember people first," Payne said. "You can never go wrong. Your parents invested in you, and that's the reason you're able to be here today."
Payne also warned students about the dangers of "being too serious."
"You can be serious, but take time to play," Payne said. "Don't be so serious that you forget to enjoy your life."
Jana Haley, president of CAFNR Student Council, announced the outstanding senior award, which went to graduate Samantha Wilkerson.
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill was next to speak.
"I love this place," McCaskill said. "I love this university. I could tell you some stories about my time here, but that probably wouldn't be good for my line of work."
Next, she offered some of her own advice. McCaskill encouraged graduates to make sure they always loved what they did and never to settle for a job they weren't excited to get up for every day.
"I'm going to miss having the option to decide whether or not to get up and go to class in the morning," said Kaley Cobb, an agriculture business management and animal science graduate. "Now we have to get up and go to work whether we feel like it or not."
"I'm going to miss going to school for 15 hours a week when I'm working 40 hours a week on the job," said Aaron Gramlich, an agriculture business management graduate. "That is going to be quite the change."
"I don't know if I'm ready for the real world," Gramlich said. "Only time will tell, I guess."
McCaskill also insisted that students should take risks and that failure is a good thing. She added, "You should never underestimate the power of confidence."
"Believe in yourself, or no one else will," she said.