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A Special Diploma Delivery for New Hampshire Grad

Fiona Mathiesen dressed in her cap and gown, holding an SNHU pennant and the text Fiona Mathiesen '20 BS in Information Technologies

When Fiona Mathiesen '20 arrived at the gazebo near the Sunapee, New Hampshire, harbor recently, she thought she was there for a socially-distant discussion about “The Silent Patient” by Alex Michaelides with her book club. Instead, she found her long-time friend Dr. Gwen Britton – also a member of her book club – dressed in full academic regalia, just as she would be at SNHU's Commencement ceremonies. 

“Then my husband showed up around the corner, and I was like, ‘You sneak,’” Mathiesen said. 

Dr. Gwen Britton and a miniature SNHU bus carrying Fiona Mathiesen's diploma.Britton, the associate vice president of STEM professions at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), and Mathiesen’s friends and family had planned a surprise graduation event to celebrate Mathiesen’s recently completed bachelor’s in information technology

“They completely surprised me. I had no idea,” Mathiesen said. “They totally threw me for a loop.”

Britton wanted to celebrate Mathiesen’s achievement since SNHU’s Commencement was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. First, she planned the gathering by emailing Mathiesen’s family and creating a secret email string with book group members in addition to the usual club communication string. Then she made a small podium as well as a miniature version of the iconic SNHU bus. 

Fiona Mathiesen controlling a miniature version of the SNHU bus that is carrying her diploma.“The level of detail she did was amazing,” Mathiesen said.

The gazebo is big enough for club and family members to stay 6 feet apart – which they did while the rain poured – and listened to Britton’s short speech and presentation of Mathiesen’s diploma. For the delivery, Britton attached it to the miniature bus. Mathiesen pulled on a string, and the bus “delivered” her diploma. 

“It was exciting,” she said. “It kind of affirmed what I’ve been doing for 5 years. And to have my parents and family there as well was really nice. It was great. It was very personal. And to have it right in my hometown as well was great. The main reason I wanted to march was for my parents.”

Long-time friends Fiona Mathiesen and Dr. Gwen Britton, dressed in graduation regalia, holding SNHU pennants.While her bachelor's degree had been long-awaited, it's not Mathiesen's first experience at SNHU. She earned her associate degree after high school back when SNHU was still New Hampshire College. Mathiesen said she began her career after earning that degree but always wanted her bachelor's.

"It was kind of a bucket list thing and the timing was just right when I decided to do it," she said.

Britton said she cheered her friend on during her journey and was thrilled to help her celebrate reaching the finish line.

"She was just so happy. She was just ecstatic," Britton said. "It was fantastic. It touched my heart knowing it was something she was looking forward to and she's worked so hard for so long."

Joe Cote is a staff writer at Southern New Hampshire University. Follow him on Twitter @JoeCo2323.

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SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.