MANATEE -- Roughly 1.8 million college students will receive Bachelor of Arts degrees in America this year.
At thousands of commencements across the land, a student affairs officer will give the graduates a last-minute, backstage pep talk.
But the odds are tremendously good that at only one, New College of Florida, will a dog bark on cue when the officer says, "Now go out there and show love and appreciation for all of those who came to see you."
The dog was New College graduate Joe Comer's Welsh Corgi, named Euler, who has become kind of a mascot on campus, and the student affairs officer who never even thought twice hearing Euler bark was Maura Scully-Murry.
Excuse Murry if a barking dog is no big deal in a room where many of the graduates are dressed in wacky, wildly wonderful and completely politically incorrect graduation garb.
And so it was as 144 New College students once again showed their passion for independent thinking as they brought their dogs, sipped bottled beer while barefoot, dressed as pirates, rabbis, walking pop art and even TARDIS from the cult favorite TV show, " Dr. Who," for the school's 48th commencement before 2,000 family and friends under a white tent on the historic bayfront campus.
Among the graduates were five Fulbright Scholarship winners and two of the 10 members of the first class of Florida's Frost Scholars, who received full scholarships for graduate degrees at England's University of Oxford. One of the Frost Scholars, mathematics student Timothy Duff of Tampa, delivered the student address.
While the graduates drew applause and cell phone camera clicks from the crowds who lined up for a look at their costumes, there was also a serious side to the evening.
Jennifer Granick, herself a New College 1990 graduate, delivered a powerful commencement address concerning threats to the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and what constitutes illegal searches and seizures in the Internet age.
As Director of Civil Liberties at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, Granick expressed strong views on governmental invasion of privacy. She received loud applause from the students for her atypical graduation speech, which was preceded by her acceptance of an honorary Doctor of Laws Degree, the first ever awarded by New College, from President Donal O'Shea.
"You look around you at the world that my generation and the generations before me have given you, and whatever your issue, climate change, animal rights, poverty, the death penalty, immigration, you see the need for political activism, maybe even radicalism," Granick said.
"You know that our world still needs the leadership of rabble-rousers like Cesar Chavez or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and you know that powerful political players may wish to discredit or even imprison these leaders for fear of the social change they demand. You understand why, even if you aren't doing anything wrong, you still have reasons to need your privacy.
"Yet, the U.S. government is taking strong advantage of new technologies by collecting billions of pieces of information on hundreds of millions of people, both Americans and non-Americans. This kind of mass surveillance was, until recently, technologically impossible or economically infeasible."
Granick told the students that if Dr. King were alive today, the government would have access to even more information about him, his friends, family and associates.
"With that information, we can blackmail people into silence, turn them into informants, single them out for prosecution," she said. "No government should accumulate so much information that it could easily decide to discredit people whose ideas it fears."
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @RichardDymond.