Former Gator quarterback Tim Tebow will return to The Swamp this Spring to address the 2022 graduating class in a commencement speech.
Tebow will speak April 29 at 7 p.m. in the Ben Hill Griffin Stadium for the university-wide ceremony, a celebration of students from all colleges. Graduates, their families and members of the public are invited to come to the special night under the lights.
Graduating in 2009, Tebow led the Gators football team to glory, winning two national championships and earning a Heisman Trophy. He became a four-time New York Times best-selling author, played professional football for the Denver Broncos and professional baseball for the New York Mets. Those achievements, however, are not why he was chosen to speak, UF President Kent Fuchs said.
When Fuchs was looking for an external speaker for this year’s commencement, he searched for someone who had a connection to the university and had made a difference in the world. Tebow, he said, fit both criteria.
The Tim Tebow Foundation, Tebow’s Christian-based organization serving people across the globe, is driven by spreading faith, hope and love to those needing a brighter day in their darkest hours of need.
For the past three years, UF only held college recognition ceremonies where graduates would be individually honored, and Fuchs gave a commencement speech at every ceremony.
“In a little more than seven years, I have given 120 commencement addresses,” Fuchs said. “I enjoy it, but we decided that we would have an external speaker for this all university ceremony.”
This will be Fuchs’ last all-university ceremony as UF president. While he may still preside over the indoor, smaller ceremonies in August and December until UF selects a new president, Fuchs will be a professor the next time he is at a university-wide ceremony in Spring 2023.
This year, all graduates will come to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium for the university-wide ceremony, kickstarting the weekend of celebration. Students will line up by college and march into the stadium accompanied by the symphony orchestra. The administration will then confer degrees, introduce Tebow to speak and lead the stadium in singing Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down,” Fuchs said.
Throughout the weekend, there will also be indoor college recognition ceremonies where students will get to hear their names called and parade across the stage.
UF has tried the university-wide ceremony a couple times in the past before the COVID-19 pandemic but saw limited success.
In 2019, James Patterson, best-selling author and literacy advocate addressed graduates at the university-wide ceremony. The year before, rock legend Stephen Stills spoke at the first universitywide ceremony to be held in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in decades. It was new, so not many students showed up to either, Fuchs said.
But this year, Fuchs expects something very different.
“We already have 50,000 people that have registered to come,” he said, “and that was before we announced that Tim Tebow was going to be the speaker.”
UF invited Tebow to speak in 2021, and he accepted, but to comply with COVID-19 safety protocols, the university decided to postpone his address.
“Now we feel that COVID has declined enough and enough people are immunized that we can have a full ceremony,” Fuchs said.
Daniel Cross, a receiver on the Gators football team graduating this Spring hasn’t kept up with Tebow since he’s graduated. Still, the Gator quarterback will always be relevant, he said.
“I think it’s great that he’s coming back to the University of Florida and representing Florida,” Cross said. “I just have nothing but respect for him.”
UF chose Tebow for his leadership—something that Fuchs hopes the class of 2022 and others will be inspired by after listening to his speech.
UF Sports Journalism and Communication Director Eric Esterline is sure Tebow can inspire his listeners through his inspirational speaking.
“It is always great when Tebow can come back to campus and participate in events like this,” Esterline wrote in an email. “He is always so gracious with his time and is such a good example for students in giving back to the Gator Nation.”
Tebow will not receive an honorary degree or an honorarium for his speech, Fuchs said.
Fuchs said he looks forward to enjoying the ceremony’s special ambiance, celebrating the hard work of the graduates and participating in traditions like singing Tom Petty’s, “I Won’t Back Down.”
Fuchs hopes the combination of the university-wide ceremony and the college recognition ceremonies will continue on long after his time as president.
Contact Lily Kino at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @lily_kino.
Lily Kino is a second-year journalism major covering Santa Fe. When she's not writing, Lily is either going on nature walks or swimming with her goldendoodle, George.