PALMETTO — A large cardboard alumni license plate display in the lobby of the Manatee Civic Center in Palmetto summed up the feelings of graduates, faculty, family and friends attending the 2009 University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee fall graduation ceremony.
It read “PROUD.”
Students from the colleges of behavioral and community sciences, education, nursing, arts and sciences, business and the school of hotel and restaurant management received their degrees during the afternoon commencement exercises.
Hundreds of parents, siblings and friends celebrated the graduates’ achievements in a nearly packed auditorium.
As the ceremony began, Arthur Guilford, regional chancellor for USF Sarasota-Manatee, told the students graduation was “one of the great milestones of your life” and USF faculty and staff were “privileged to have students of such caliber pass through our halls.”
“You are truly unstoppable,” he said.
USF’s president Judy Genshaft applauded the diversity of students and their achievements before they received their degrees. They hailed from 43 states and 83 different countries, she said.
The oldest graduate was 65 years old and the youngest only 18. One student was the first in her family to get a college degree and 18 students planned to join the armed forces following graduation.
“We pride ourselves in making our graduates leaders,” said Genshaft. “We are a better university because of you.”
Individually, three students and one teacher were honored for their accomplishments. Cheryl Ouelette was honored for the highest cumulative grade point average on the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus and was named the King O’Neal Scholar. Robert Johnson walked away with the Golden Bull Award and Brice Tisdale was recognized as USF’s Outstanding Senior for the fall. Ross P. Alander was named Outstanding Professor.
Genshaft told the crowd “it seemed like yesterday” since the students embarked on their quest for a college degree at USF. Faculty and staff were “proud to share their university journey,” she said.
Universities are “global lighthouses” and degrees “a gift to the future,” said Genshaft.
“Starting today, you have a powerful asset; a degree,” she said. “You can be confident, even in uncertain times; your university will be behind you.”
Then Genshaft challenged graduates to “broaden their horizons” when they leave the auditorium and the excitement of graduation.
“Never settle for something not right for you,” she said. “Don’t change yourself. Pursue your passion and listen to your heart and be proud to be a Bull and USF graduate.
“We’re proud of your achievements,” said Genshaft. “We wish you the best of luck, happiness and success. Congratulations to you all.”