SARASOTA, Fla. (Dec. 12, 2016) It didn’t hit until she started getting ready. That’s when the tears came.
Jennifer Caba, USF Sarasota-Manatee’s “Outstanding Graduate” and “Golden Bull Service and Leadership Award” winner, said her emotions stayed in check days leading up to Sunday’s commencement exercise at the Bradenton Area Convention Center. But as she got dressed for the ceremony she felt a rush of emotion.
“It didn’t hit me until I was getting ready. That’s when it came out. I started crying a little bit,” the accounting major said, realizing her academic life was coming to a close. “All the close friends I made, all the good times I had, the professors and mentorships, it’s like saying goodbye to my USFSM family.”
As the two-hour commencement played out before 350 people at the convention center, Caba would bid fond farewells to her “Take Stock in Children” mentor Elaine Graham, who pushed her to focus on academics as a student at Southeast High in Bradenton, as well as to the Habitat for Humanity chapter she helped launch and the Spanish club she founded at USFSM.
Then there was Cynthia Rees, the high school teacher who urged her to join Future Business Leaders of America.
Caba, a Southeast freshman at the time, balked at joining the club but Rees, the club’s adviser, convinced her that membership would help her get into college. She was right.
“Ms. Rees, thank you for pushing me back at the end of my freshman year to get involved in your organization,” Caba said at the commencement. “That truly changed my life. That was the reason that today I am here where I am, winning these awards, graduating college. If it wasn’t for you pushing me to do better, I truly wouldn’t be the leader I am today, so thank you.”
Caba has applied to Officer Candidates School for the U.S. Marine Corps.
She wasn’t the only graduate to experience a roller coaster of emotion during the ceremony. Of the 195 students who received degrees, including 25 earning master’s degrees, about 100 attended the commencement.
Dat Vu, who graduated with a master’s degree in business administration, called the event “bittersweet,” saying it culminated years of study, starting as an undergraduate accounting major at USFSM.
After getting his bachelor’s degree in 2013 and landing a job at Feld Entertainment in Palmetto, Vu took a year off, but then returned as an MBA student to take nearly two years of Saturday classes toward earning a master’s degree.
Tempering the excitement of graduating were feelings of sadness at leaving USFSM and a wave of relief for completing six years of higher education: “I’m not sure what I’m going to do with all this free time now,” he said, laughing.
Vu won’t be idle for long, though. Soon, he’ll be studying for the CPA exam. Until then, “I want to work for a little while.”
Brad Boserup, however, will have little time to waste.
The 22-year-old who earned a bachelor’s degree in biology wants to apply to medical school and plans to take the Medical College Admission Test in April. That means he’ll hit the books right after the holidays.
“I’ve always wanted to be a physician, ever since childhood,” he said.
Before starting medical school, Boserup will work as a lab assistant a few days a week at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota. There, he’ll be reunited with two USFSM professors who aided and inspired him in his studies, assistant professor of biology Dr. Christelle Bouchard and organic chemistry instructor Dr. Edie Banner.
“I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had really great relationships with all my professors,” he said, adding that he’ll miss one other thing about USFSM, the small class sizes that fostered learning and enabled him to excel.
Willie Bowman, 60, who earned a bachelor’s degree in criminology, said Sunday’s commencement afforded him a rare moment of reflection.
After 30 years in the military and later as a corrections officer, Bowman said that earning his degree amounted to one of the few things in life he did for himself.
“Everything else in life I did for my family and or someone else, but this, I did this for me,” said Bowman, a deputy at the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.
“It just goes to show that even at my age, you can come back and finish your education,” he said.
He thanked his wife and the couple’s three grown children for their support and understanding. Additionally, Bowman received special recognition during the ceremony.
During remarks to the graduates and their families, USF System President Dr. Judy Genshaft singled out Bowman, noting that he plans to use his degree toward counseling at-risk youth, young men in particular.
“Good for you,” Dr. Genshaft said, pointing to him in the audience. “Good for you.”
In addition to Caba receiving awards for Outstanding Graduate and Golden Bull, Dr. Jean Kabongo was recognized for receiving the “Outstanding Professor Award” for the third consecutive semester.
His wife and daughter were on hand for the presentation.
The College of Business associate professor said he was honored and humbled at receiving the award, noting that he’s surrounded by talented colleagues.