Thousands of students graduated from the University of Florida this weekend at a historic celebration that featured the first university-wide commencement ceremony at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in nearly half a century.
Rock legend Stephen Stills, who spent much of his youth in Gainesville and has strong ties to UF, was the guest speaker at a stage gracing the 50-yard line in a ceremony full of pageantry, pomp and live music by the University Concert Choir and UF Wind Symphony.
Cloudy skies and a few drops of rain did nothing to dampen the spirits of more than 1,000 graduates on the field and their beaming families, friends and loved ones in the stands.
The weekend’s events marked both a return to tradition and a new chapter in UF’s graduation history. In addition to returning to the tradition of all graduates joining together to receive their degrees, each of UF’s colleges for the first time held its own celebration at which each student was individually recognized with his or her dean and faculty, family and friends.
A Gator fan since he was a second-grader at J.J. Finley Elementary in Gainesville in the 1950s, Stills on Friday saw his dream of becoming a Florida Gator come true. The two-time Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer and Songwriters Hall of Fame member was named an honorary doctor of music at Friday’s doctoral ceremony. He was further honored Saturday when the University Concert Choir performed one of his famous songs, “Helplessly Hoping.”
The former member of Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, who attended Gainesville High School – and whose name graces a room where the UF marching band rehearses – offered graduates several bits of wisdom.
“If you have had in mind a certain calling, one that might require postgraduate study, or have been recruited for a top-level job, run with it,” he said. “But if you are not yet sure of what you intend to do, at some point, while it’s still fresh in your mind, make some time to rest in solitude and reflect upon the entire course of study you have just completed. How it unfolded from start to finish.”
Immediately after the ceremony, he took time to greet and take photos with the students in the choir.
Read Stills' address here.
Saturday’s faculty speaker, College of the Arts Dean Onye Ozuzu, referenced one of Stills’ best-known compositions, “For What It’s Worth,” calling it “an anthem that connects us.”
Ozuzu urged the graduates to remember all the connections they have forged on campus, even the person you may just have smiled to, sitting at the end of the row.
“What you have accomplished is complete - and yet it is just beginning,” Ozuzu said, “and it is just that, the not knowing, that is the power of receptivity to opportunity.”
Read Ozuzu's address here.
Sending off the graduates at the ceremony’s end, UF President Kent Fuchs recited the classic Irish blessing that includes the line “May the sun shine warm upon your face.” As if on cue, the clouds parted just enough for the sun to break through.
All told, 3,643 UF students earned their diplomas this December. They included students from 45 states and 73 countries, 296 first-generation college students, 481 students who join other Gator graduates in their families and 193 UF Online students. The youngest graduate was 19; the oldest, 65.
Over 50 College of the Arts graduates celebrated the completion of their degree programs at the college’s recognition ceremony in the University Auditorium. Ozuzu presided over the ceremony, welcoming Assistant Professor of Dance Trent D. Williams Jr. to provide faculty remarks and McKenna Nelson, who received her Bachelor of Music, to present the student keynote. Nelson was selected by her fellow graduates to speak at the ceremony.
Each student was recognized individually by name and degree program, and master’s students were hooded by their faculty members. School of Music alumna Hye Jin Park performed on the auditorium’s organ during the processional, hooding of master’s students, and recessional.