May 12, 2020 at 12:51 AM EDT – Updated May 12 at 12:51 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY (KOCO/CNN) – Given the coronavirus outbreak, some schools are holding virtual graduation ceremonies. But for one Oklahoma college, that rite of passage went terribly wrong when hackers interrupted with racial slurs and anti-Semitic imagery.
Graduate Leondre Lattimore was online with his family Saturday for one of the biggest moments of his young life: his graduation from Oklahoma City University. Happiness sparked as his and classmates’ names scrolled across the screen.
Suddenly, in the middle of classmate Jay Williams’ prayer, Lattimore says the screen went black.
“Then, all we saw was the N-word and a swastika,” he said. “My grandma and my mom and everything saw it, and they were really heartbroken by it.”
Williams says he started crying after he realized what had happened. He also couldn’t hold back his emotions when he posted a message on social media to his friends and fellow graduates.
“Not even get to fully enjoy it,” Williams wrote. “I think that’s the part that hurts the worst.”
The graduation ceremony ended abruptly after it was hacked. Officials say “an unknown source was able to display racist and offensive language.”
A father of a graduate, who only wanted to be identified as Greg, says he didn’t get to see his daughter’s name because of the interruption.
“That was the end of their graduation ceremony,” Greg said. “A lot of hard work, a lot of money going across, it’s just sad.”
OCU President Martha Burger expressed her heartbreak and outrage on social media. She also said the university made a report to federal and state authorities.
“OCU stands against racism, bigotry and anti-Semitism,” Burger said. “Although we took safety precautions, unfortunately, the digital platform we used to connect has become a target.”
I am heartbroken and angered by the racist and anti-Semitic actions that defaced today’s Oklahoma City University graduation ceremony. It is especially tragic that this hate-filled attack marred a day meant for celebration…
— Congresswoman Kendra Horn (@RepKendraHorn) May 10, 2020
Lattimore and Williams say the incident is not taking away from what they and their fellow graduates worked so hard for.
“Despite the hate, you can’t take away what we earned, and that’s the degree,” Lattimore said.
The ceremony was held on Zoom, according to KFOR. The FBI warned in late March of increased hacking of video-teleconferencing platforms, also known as “Zoom-bombing,” during the coronavirus pandemic. Zoom has since announced security updates.
Copyright 2020 KOCO, Hearst, Family photos via CNN. All rights reserved. Gray Media Group, Inc., contributed to this report.