One of this weekend’s graduates once was forced to evacuate to Florida because of a hurricane, but she has never stepped onto the UCF campus.

Now the fully online student from Jacksonville, North Carolina, says she wouldn’t miss the opportunity to walk across the stage Saturday to receive her diploma.

Sarah Gebert, 34, who will earn her bachelor of arts in history after two years of studies, says she has wanted to visit UCF since becoming a student. “The pictures I’ve seen of the campus online look beautiful,” she says, “and I can’t wait to see it in person.”

She says the closest she has come to a UCF experience outside her online courses was last year when she had tickets to attend the UCF vs. University of North Carolina football game in North Carolina, but Hurricane Florence forced cancellation of the game and she had to evacuate to Florida.

Gebert currently lives on Camp Lejeune with her Marine wife of three years, Jennifer, and works as an administrative assistant for Coastal Carolina Community College, where she also received her AA. After doing some research, she selected UCF Online to complete her bachelor’s degree because she said it has one of the best online history programs available.

As a military spouse dealing with deployment separations, I’ve faced unique challenges as a student.

“My spouse is an active-duty Marine and we have to be prepared to move according to needs of the military, so an online program best fit my needs,” she says. “As a military spouse dealing with deployment separations, I’ve faced unique challenges as a student. But it is important to me to finally come to UCF as I fulfill my goals … where I can finally realize and celebrate this achievement.”

She said she has long had interest in history, and in 2016 traveled to Japan, Indonesia and China, which piqued her fascination with global history.

“My first semester at UCF, I registered for History of Chinese Civilizations as a result of my trip to Beijing,” Gebert says. “Walking around the grounds of the Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square and The Forbidden City, I realized how ignorant I was of Chinese history and this motivated me to pursue a course of study that would teach me about other cultures.”

She now wants to pursue a master’s degree and eventually would like to become a history professor.

“I am passionate about teaching history to the next generation in order to actively avoid the mistakes of the past and improve the condition of the world for future generations,” she says. “These historical lessons are vital for any culture and society to reflect on for the benefit of its future and this is my ultimate goal in pursuing a higher education.”

Gebert says UCF’s online courses gave her the ability to remain mobile and study on the go when necessary.

“The online learning platform at UCF helped me develop vital organizational and time-management skills as well as giving me an education in using online research tools,” she says.

She credits three of her online instructors and their involvement for her success: Hong Zhang (History of Chinese Civilizations, The History of Modern China), Kenneth Hanson (Biblical Archaeology, Jewish View of Jesus) and Lori Waters (U.S. Space History, Cold War Homefronts, History of the Future).

She said their video lectures, challenging assignments, and personal touches helped her understand the course information.

Now she’ll have the opportunity to celebrate at commencement — and see the UCF campus — with her family who are coming in from North Carolina, Oklahoma and St. Augustine.

“I probably won’t see them in the crowd as I walk across the stage, but I’ll know they’re there, cheering for me,” she says. “This degree will open doors of opportunity going forward where I can reap the rewards of all my hard work.”