PALMETTO — Allison Cooper was practically hidden among a sea of green and gold robes as she stood in line among her fellow graduates.
“I’m excited and happy I’m finally here,” said 22-year-old Cooper, one of 266 University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee students who participated in a commencement ceremony Sunday at the Manatee Convention Center in Palmetto.
Only seconds away from having her diploma, Cooper, of Punta Gorda, chatted about her polished resume and her hopeful plans to land an elementary teaching job in Hillsborough or Pinellas counties.
“It’s been a long road,” added 23-year-old Candace Curtis, who stood in line beside Cooper and smiled.
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During a cheery ceremony, USF Sarasota-Mantee vice president and CEO Arthur Guilford congratulated graduates and reminded the group that Sunday was one of the most important days of their lives.
That is, he said smiling, along with marriage, birth and the day student loans are paid off.
He called the graduates leaders of tomorrow and encouraged them to lead lives with principle.
“Embrace ethics and honor,” Guilford said.
USF President Judy Genshaft, from the arena rostrum, called for a time of celebration for the crowd of graduates, their friends and their families.
“Your education doesn’t stop when you get your degree,” she said, emphasizing the importance of life-long learning.
Genshaft said more than 3,700 students will graduate from USF during this fall semester.
The group consists of students from 39 states and 92 nations. The oldest graduate, 75-year-old John Allen Myers, received his doctoral degree in psychology. The youngest, 20-year-old Elizabeth Marie Anderson, received her bachelor’s degree in nursing.
Also during Sunday’s ceremony, state Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, presented the Distinguished Citizen Award to Sarasota resident Lisa Carlton, an outgoing member of the state Senate. The award is presented annually and recognizes the contributions of a person who displays extraordinary leadership, commitment and outstanding public service to the community.
Carlton thanked the graduates for also investing in their community.
“This university has risen above the academic excellence level and can claim something much higher: serving the community,” Carlton said. “The students who graduate today and tomorrow are the real distinguished ones.”