OGDEN -- Christee Kyte took extra care arranging her waves under her mortarboard Thursday for a photo commemorating her upcoming graduation from Weber State University.
"It took me five years, but I'm finally going to graduate," said Kyte, 46, drying a happy tear. "It was hard, but without a doubt, it was worth it."
Hundreds of WSU students visited the Lindquist Alumni Center from Tuesday through Thursday this week to pick up caps and gowns for commencement, scheduled for a week from tonight.
WSU officials expect more than 2,300 students to graduate this spring, but not all will attend commencement.
On Thursday, students in jeans, shorts, skirts and T-shirts showed up to pick up their pre-purchased caps and gowns, in black for bachelor's and graduate degrees, in Wildcat purple for associate degrees. Tassels atop the caps will indicate which colleges at WSU the graduates are from.
And about half of the students paused for a formal photo, looking sober in caps and gowns above their sandaled or sneakered feet.
Kayleb Kester, 21, of Clearfield, will graduate with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice and a minor in sociology. He's an aspiring policeman.
"Oh, man, I am going to have so much time on my hands without having to write papers and take tests," Kester said gleefully. "I've got one more final today, and I'm done. After graduation, I'm going to celebrate. It may involve alcohol."
Jessica Peterson, 22, of Roy, was all smiles.
"Can't believe I am finally here," she said. "I have a couple of finals left, but I turned in my senior project yesterday."
Peterson will earn a Bachelor of Science degree in interior design and, after completing an internship, hopes to find work in hospitality design.
"I have two weeks where I can just have fun," she said. "I can't wait to sleep in."
Volunteer David Olsen, a WSU class of 1971 criminal justice graduate, was on hand for his 11th year, congratulating students and making sure they got a gown that fit.
"It's a chance to give back to the university that gave me an education," Olsen said, adding, "When I graduated, the Dead Sea was only sick."
Olsen was stationed in front of dozens of gown boxes, each labeled as appropriate for students of a specific height.
On Tuesday, the gowns totaled about 3,000, and a lot more boxes crowded the space. The average Weber State graduate's height is between 5 feet 4 inches and 6 feet, according to Olsen's nonscientific research.
Jeff White, from Jostens, the gown manufacturer, said that, over the years, he has provided gowns for scholars from 34 inches tall to 7 feet 6 inches. He suited a 6-foot-9-inch scholar just last week at Utah State University, he said.
Roy resident Kyte, earning her bachelor's degree in communications, took an average-sized cap and gown, but her education story isn't typical. The single mother of Noah, 11, said her time at Weber State already has changed her life.
"I was in a bad marriage, and I was given the choice to stay or to turn my life around," she said.
"I was driving in my car on Riverdale Road, and my husband called and expressed interest in reconciling. I reflected on whether I should stay with what I knew and put up with abuse, or choose the harder road and turn myself around."
Kyte found herself making a literal U-turn and driving directly to Weber State.
"I asked the first person I saw, 'If I wanted to go to school here, where would I go?'aa"
Directed to the Student Services Building, Kyte repeated her question and went on to enroll. She found support through the WSU Women's Center and through the nontraditional students office, she said, and was able to get scholarships.
Kyte hopes to find public relations work related to computer animation and social media.
"Weber State has changed my life," Kyte said. "I am deeply grateful for all the support I got here.
"I've got a new life ahead. I don't know what I would have done without Weber State."