After years of hard work and one last summer, UF graduates have reached the light at the end of the tunnel.
On Saturday morning, 1,200 students and their families and friends gathered at the O'Connell Center for the Bachelor’s, Master’s and Specialist’s Commencement Ceremony.
UF President Kent Fuchs began the ceremony by welcoming everyone and offering thanks and congratulations before turning over the podium to his fellow faculty members.
The commencement speaker, professor Ted Spiker of the College of Journalism and Communications, started his speech describing the impact of one of his students.
The student, named Ashley, tragically died in a car accident one spring break. Spiker recalled that she always faced her classmates when talking to them, a small gesture, but one which showed her kindness and respect for others. He then provided a list of tips for future success inspired by her legacy.
One such tip is to always consider the impact words can have on others, Spiker said.
“You all will speak and write millions of words in your lifetime,” Spiker said. “Not all of your words will really matter, but you never know which ones might. Choose your words with intention.”
After two gator chomps, the graduates officially moved their tassels, and at the end of the ceremony, attendees sang both the alma mater and Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” together.
Some attendees left early as their graduates crossed the stage for recognition.
Cassandra Mead, 21, graduated with her undergraduate psychology degree, described the ceremony as “an honestly surreal experience.”
“I graduated early, so I don’t think it has really set in yet,” Mead said. “I mean, it’s great to have gone to a top 10 public university, and ending on a Tom Petty song was awesome because that's what we all do at the games.”
Though many of the graduates earned their bachelor’s degrees, the ceremony also included masters and specialist students. One such graduate, Carissa Madden, 30, earned her master's degree in special education with a graduate certificate in disability studies.
Passionate about disability rights and sharing what she has learned with everyone, Madden said she plans to continue her education at the doctoral level. But first, her family came both physically and in spirit to watch her earn her master’s at the ceremony, Madden said.
“It feels fantastic. It's a huge accomplishment, and my memories here at the University of Florida will last a lifetime,” Madden said. “But this only just the beginning.”