People and Community University

Students graduate with a feathered flair

Ethan Hartz, Devin Gialleonardo, and Michael O’Reilly donned yellow fuzzy feet at Friday’s undergraduate commencement ceremonies, revealing their identities as the University of Miami’s iconic mascot, Sebastian the Ibis.
Graduating Sebastians
From left, Michael O’Reilly, Devin Gialleonardo, and Ethan Hartz surprised their classmates during commencement by revealing they were Sebastian the Ibis during college. Photo: David Paula/University of Miami

On Friday, Ethan Hartz, Devin Gialleonardo, and Michael O’Reilly crossed the stage at the Watsco Center donning beaming smiles—and fuzzy yellow feet. 

After receiving their diplomas, the three students took center stage in a moment they say they will never forget, riled up the crowd one last time, and led the audience in the iconic ’Canes spell out, revealing a secret they’ve kept for nearly four years—the three young men were the University of Miami’s iconic mascot, Sebastian the Ibis. 

A surreal experience 

O’Reilly’s journey as Sebastian began when he spotted a poster in his residential college in his first year at the University. As a quiet kid from Georgia, he didn’t think he had much of a shot. 

“I was always a very shy person. For me it was really putting my foot in the door and saying, ‘Hey, let me do something totally different,’ ” said O’Reilly, who earned degrees in legal studies, management, and communications. 

After landing the gig, the Atlanta native spent the following years of his time as an undergraduate student putting his fuzzy foot in the door as the iconic bird, bringing ’Cane spirit and explosive dance moves everywhere he went. 

In the suit, you just feel open to being expressive or just trying new things. It’s a type of confidence,” he said. 

O’Reilly can only describe the feeling of being in the suit as an out-of-body experience. A personal highlight, he recalled, was standing on the 50-yard line of Hard Rock Stadium during the 2022 season, with thousands of ’Canes fans in the stands, stretching his palms out to ignite the raucous crowd in a ’Canes spell out during at the start of a Miami Hurricanes football game. 

I looked around and I was like, ‘Wow.’ The moment you see yourself on the big screens and you can look around and there's four of you on the jumbotrons in Hard Rock Stadium is such a crazy moment because you know that the attention is on you and you also know that you have 50,000 fans in the palm of your hands ready to go,” he said. 

Michael O'Reilly

Flipping the switch 

For Hartz, once the second glove straps on and he claps his hands, a switch inside of him flips. He’s in “Seb Mode.” 

Being the beloved mascot was no easy feat, he said. Trying to be as inconspicuous as possible entering and leaving events, keeping his identity under wraps among classmates, he joked that wearing baseball caps became part of his regular routine. 

Hartz’s most memorable moment as the ibis came during a visit to his hometown of Atlanta. He suited up during the first football game of the 2021 season versus Alabama at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. With his family, friends, and 70,000 others in the stands, Hartz got to take a piece of his Miami experience home. 

It was just so cool to see a sold-out Mercedes-Benz and get to walk around the field. Just to connect my Sebastian experience to home was really cool, and it's something I'll probably never see again. So that was awesome,” recalled Hartz, who earned a degree in entrepreneurship and marketing. 

Beyond the athletics events and big celebrations, large crowds, and roaring audiences, Hartz will always appreciate the impact he had on others, even in the smallest way, like the smiles on the people’s faces when Sebastian walks in a room. 

“As you go throughout your experience, I think you appreciate more and more all the campus events and like the one-on-one interactions you get where you get to like visibly see that you improve someone's day,” Hartz said.  “There's kind of something cool about just wearing the suit that regardless of what's going on, if someone sees Sebastian, it brightens their mood. And that's like a gift for us to be able to experience from that perspective.” 

Ethan Hartz

“It’s like being a celebrity…” 

When a professor used a photo of Sebastian the Ibis on a class presentation, or a classmate posted a photo on social media of the beloved University of Miami mascot, Gialleonardo couldn’t help but laugh. 

I always just sat there and I'm like, ‘They have no idea. They have no idea that that's literally me,’” he said. 

Before slipping into the white feather suit and fuzzy feet, Gialleonardo’s only experience as a mascot was a one-time appearance as Spiderman at a family party. Four years later, he still can’t wrap his head around the feeling of being Sebastian the Ibis. 

It's like being a celebrity in a unique kind of way,” Gialleonardo joked. “If you're walking around as some actor, you know, you're not necessarily approachable. But, as Sebastian, you're like a celebrity on campus wherever you go. People are encouraged to come over. Everywhere you go, it's like people running up, smiling, wanting to talk to you. It was wild.” 

Gialleonardo, who graduated with degrees in finance and business technology and moved to Miami from Westchester, New York, noted that the experience of being Sebastian has set him up for success. As he starts his career, he feels that Sebastian will always be a part of who he has become. He hopes to continue telling people, whether friends or future colleagues, about his experience. 

“To me it’ll always be a great fun fact,” he laughed. “There are times where I’ve run into someone who interviewed me, they bring it up. I don't even remember telling them. I think it's definitely something that sticks with people,” he added. 

Devin Gialleonardo

As the trio reflected on their time as Sebastian the Ibis, reminiscing on their best and worst moments, acknowledging that running around South Florida in white fur and a bobbly head isn’t always as glorious as it appears, they want ’Canes fans around the world to know one thing—every time they slipped on those gloves and pulled on that jersey, they gave Miami Hurricanes fans everything they had. 

We really leave it all out there when we're doing this. Physically, we exert ourselves to the maximum,” Hartz said. “We know how long we're going to be somewhere, and we are doing our very best start to finish to just put on the best performance, to have the best interactions, to improve most people's day in the best way.” 

Cecilia Esteban, the spirit coordinator for Hurricanes Athletics, oversees the Cheerleading Team, Sunsations Dance Team, and the Sebastian the Ibis Mascot Program. She began working with Hartz, Gialleonardo, and O’Reilly just over a year ago. 

“Jumping into the role of managing the Sebastian the Ibis mascots was something I didn’t expect but has been so special. I could not have asked for a better group of seniors to help guide me,” she said. “Ethan, Michael, and Devin are going to do incredible things in life, and I am so lucky and happy that I got to be a small part of their college experience.” 

Most rewarding among all their experiences, the three men agreed, was meeting each other and the other—still confidential—members of “The Flock” along the way. 

I do think that these individuals have become some of my best friends. They've been there in the highs, the lows, the many moments where I've needed help with advisors, professors, just my social life, et cetera. Being a part of such a unique college experience and our own story is so special,” O’Reilly said.