As the Archbishop, who had conducted the proceedings, mingled with the crowds and she accepted the congratulations of family and friends, her boyfriend, former soldier Tom Hardie, dropped to one knee and popped the question.
“My family knew it was going to happen. My mum had even gone with him to choose the ring – but I hadn’t a clue,” said Ms Woodward, 23, who, having graduated from York St John University with a BA in fine arts, is now training to be a secondary school teacher.
“I was very emotional and shocked. It took me ages to say yes, and in the end he asked me if he could please get up from one knee now.
“I had been expecting a proposal at some point – I’d dropped enough hints over four years – but I didn’t expect it there and then.”
She and Mr Hardie had been together throughout her studies, having met at a pub near Catterick, where he was stationed. They now live in Newton Aycliffe, near Ms Woodward’s family home in Darlington.
Mr Hardie had picked his moment as guests at the graduation ceremony emerged from the Minister and lit cigarettes.
“We came out of the south door and I was with my friends. Then my family came over and the next thing I knew, he was on one knee,” said Ms Woodward, who had taken time out from her first teacher training placement to attend..
“I don’t think the Archbishop saw it,” she added.
Her fiancé, who is 21 and works in a factory making resin, having joined the Army from school, has yet to surprise her with plans for the wedding, she said.
The graduation was part of a week of celebrations at the Minster, which saw more than 1,500 students honoured and honorary degrees handed to the comedian Eddie Izzard, broadcaster Harry Gration and the Sheffield-born astronaut, Helen Sharman.