AUSTIN (KXAN) — Under the orange glow of the tower, thousands of University of Texas at Austin students gathered on the main mall of campus to celebrate ahead of the new school year.

The biggest back-to-school event, Gone to Texas, featured music and speeches from university officials on Tuesday night. Some students wore masks, others did not. Still, the lively event was a stark contrast to last year’s Gone to Texas, held virtually.

Masks and vaccines were optional but encouraged at the event, and similar protocols will be in place when classes begin Wednesday morning.

While professors have the option of offering hybrid online and in-person classes for the first few weeks of school, university officials expect classes to be back at full capacity by September 20.

“I haven’t been in an in-person class in almost two years,” sophomore Jordan Tran said. “I feel like I didn’t learn as much as I should have my freshman year, because it was all online.” 

  • To view the full COVID-19 safety guidelines at the University of Texas, click here.

Tran got an internship with the UT football team, meaning she has more COVID-19 testing requirements than most students. Still, she said she’s willing to take whatever safety precautions are necessary to keep campus open and keep capacity for football games at 100%.

She said she expects to get emotional during the first game in Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.

“I might cry,” she laughed.

On Tuesday, Louisiana State University announced fans would be required to provide proof of their COVID-19 vaccine or documentation of a negative COVID-19 test to enter their stadium.

UT Athletics hasn’t made any announcements about similar protocols.

Students are all encouraged to log their symptoms on the Protect Texas Together app and get regular COVID-19 tests through the Proactive Community Test program, but all these efforts are voluntary.

University officials have asked all students to get tested by Friday, August 27.

Meanwhile, students living on-campus were required to get a COVID-19 test before arriving for move-in. A spokesperson for the University said 5,960 students had already checked in.

Everyone who arrived at centralized check in either provided proof of a negative test or tested on site. None of the students testing on site had a positive test so all were able to move in.

UT Austin spokesperson

51 students contacted the university to delay their move, and the university spokesperson said they worked with those students to find a new move-in date after their isolation period.

Incoming freshman Orlando Lugo said he’s thrilled to be on campus, but he was nervous about getting a positive test before his move-in date.

“That would have been horrible,” he said.

Several online petitions for mask or vaccine mandates have started to gain traction among the UT community. One group posted online about plans to gather in front of the tower on Wednesday, calling for more required safety protocols.

UT Austin rolled out a new vaccine campaign on Tuesday, encouraging people to get vaccinated. (Photo courtesy of The University of Texas)

A spokesperson for the university said, “We remain nimble in monitoring the situation and if any adjustments are made, we will let the UT community know.”

UT Austin rolled out a new vaccine campaign on Tuesday, encouraging people to get vaccinated and offering prizes and other incentives for those who have gotten their shots.