Class of 2016

New College grads celebrate with one-of-a-kind ceremony

SARASOTA — One graduate rode a friend dressed in a cow suit across the stage.

One leaped off the stairs in a leotard with diploma in hand.

One carried a 1.75 liter of Captain Morgan dressed as a pirate.

But most of them walked across the stage to simply accept their diploma and thank their professors.

And so the dance began for 158 students of the 2009 graduating class for New College of Florida who gathered on Sarasota Bay for commencement Friday evening.

“New College showed me how to dance in life,” said Sharon Matola, a New College alumna who graduated in 1981 with a degree in biology and environmental science. She was the keynote speaker for the 43rd commencement for the college.

After graduation, Matola said she went on to join a traveling Mexican circus as a part of her masters program at the University of South Florida.

It led to her working as an assistant to a documentary maker in Belize. After the shoot was over, she was directed to get rid of the animals, she said.

Matola, who was desperate to save them, opened up a zoo with no funds. Now the Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center is home to more than 125 native Belizean species.

“You guys, it’s time to do your dance,” she said addressing the graduates. “When you do your dance, dance like nobody is watching you.”

The college continued its tradition of students foregoing the traditional cap and gown.

Many students wore dresses or suits. Some wore blue jeans and Converse. Some came in costume.

“They’re an eclectic bunch. It’s one of the rites of passage at New College,” said Jake Hartvigsen, director of public affairs for New College. “Despite the whimsical nature of the way they dress, there are seven Fulbright scholars, four French teaching assistantships, and a bunch of other awards.”

Eric Gressman of Miami congratulated his daughter, Erica, as she made her way back to her seat with her diploma in hand. She wore a cream colored dress.

“Overall she had a good experience. She worked very hard,” he said. “Students are a little bit different. They are very bright, very energetic. I’m proud of her.”

One graduate sat waiting to line up dressed as Chiquita banana. The Massachusetts native chose her costume because of Florida’s warm tropical climate, said Erika Mitchell.

“It’s the end of undergrad, she said. “It’s maybe one of the biggest accomplishments of my life.”

Related stories from Bradenton Herald