Hard work, optimism pay off for 4 'outstanding' USF-SM grads

rdymond@bradenton.comMay 6, 2013 

PALMETTO -- One University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee graduate arrived in Manatee County from Vietnam in 2005 without speaking a word of English and went on to become the most outstanding student on his college campus eight years later.

Another USF-SM grad notched straight A's throughout high school, community college and college.

Another USF-SM grad became a top scholar while being a husband, father to three sons and treasurer at his Bradenton church.

A fourth outstanding graduate gave considerable time to community causes and still excelled in academics.

These accomplishments take hard work and a positive attitude, according to 2013 graduates Dat Vu , Michaela Cerce, Todd Bolkema and Ryan Page -- all honored during Sunday's spring commencement.

Vu came to America from Vietnam and mastered English while attending Southeast High School. He was named Outstanding Graduate before a crowd of 3,000 at the Bradenton Area Convention Center and plans a career in finance.

Besides learning to speak English flawlessly, Vu discovered a positive attitude solves just about any problem, his friends said.

"Dat is awesome," said Dana Arace, a college employee in student services. "He is probably the most well-liked and admired person on our entire campus. He is always smiling, positive about life and is a good student."

Vu, who will graduate with a grade point average of 3.70, immersed himself in student life, Arace said.

He founded the school's first Phi Beta Lambda fraternity for the Future Business Leaders of America and was named its first president.

Cerce, earned USF Sarasota-Manatee's only 4.0 grade-point average -- one of 13 perfect USF scholars systemwide this semester -- to receive the King O'Neal Award for highest cumulative grade point average.

Cerce earned nothing but A's from her time at Lemon Bay High School in Englewood, through all State College of Florida classes and now at USF Sarasota-Manatee.

How did she do it?

"Skip the weekend parties, study long hours in my room in total quiet, read and re-read the material over and over," Cerce said.

Was it all worth it to this College of Hospitality and Technology graduate who wants to become a pastry expert?

"Absolutely," she said Sunday. "I am very proud of it and it will help me going forward."

Bolkema volunteers as treasurer at Bradenton Christian Reformed Church. His college work was so stellar he won the Paul Searles Webecke Award for excellence in the College of Business.

Page, president of the school's Criminology Club for two years, participated in road clean-ups and other community projects to take home the Golden Bull Service and Outstanding Leadership Award.

"It's humbling," Page said. "There were many other fine candidates."

Richard Reich, an instructor in the College of Arts and Sciences, was selected by the graduating class as 2013 Outstanding Professor.

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