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Family surprises new University of Tennessee graduate with one-of-a-kind commencement ceremony

"Dolly Parton" was there and so was "Peyton Manning."

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — When Emily Maner found out she wasn't going to get to walk across the stage after graduating from the University of Tennessee, she was disappointed.

"To walk across the same stage as Peyton Manning," Maner said. "I just felt like it was an honor." 

Like schools across the country, UT canceled its in-person commencement ceremonies, but Julie Maner, Emily's mom, had an idea to help celebrate the milestone.

Underneath a large white tent outside the family's barn, a Dolly Parton look-alike strutted across a make-shift commencement stage.  

"I barely made it here after working...nine to five," she sang.

Emily, dressed in her cap and gown, watched as other 'celebrities' like Peyton Manning and Phillip Fulmer gave speeches during a realistic ceremony that she said rivaled any she could have had at school.

"It was all those little details that made it special and honestly that much better," Maner said.  Maner said she knew her parents wanted to throw a party, but the ceremony was a surprise. 

"To hold all those secrets was the hardest thing I've ever done," Julie Maner said, adding that the ceremony gave them closure after the semester abruptly ended. 

"She was looking for closure. The whole rung was pulled out from students everywhere, and she was having a hard time moving forward. SO, we helped her have a memory that sort of shut the door to UT for a little bit," Julie Maner said. 

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