Nearly every chair was filled as family and friends cheered on the more than 225 who participated in the commencement. Including those who did not attend, about 350 graduates were awarded degrees, including 66 master’s degrees, for the spring term.
“I feel a little bit of relief now that I’m at this completion stage, but at the same time … I’m kind of excited and a little bit nervous about what’s to come in the future,” Emily Barnes said shortly before receiving her bachelor’s degree in business.
Many graduates used the time between their arrival and the start of the ceremony to catch up with friends and classmates, take photos and share a few poignant moments with family members.
“It’s exciting and nerve-wracking all at the same time,” said Kailey Fischer, 21, who was graduating with a degree in finance and minor in Spanish and Latin American studies. “I’ve never done anything except be in school, so after this I’ll be entering the real world.”
Fischer, a member of USFSM’s first freshman class, said she chose USFSM because of its proximity to her home in Manatee County. It was important for her to stay local, she said. Post-graduation, she plans to work for her entrepreneur father.
Others, including Barnes and Noah Miller, the King O’Neal Award winner for academic excellence, cited the campus’ small class sizes and personalized attention as reasons why they attended USFSM.
Miller, who achieved a perfect 4.0 grade point average on his way to winning the King O’Neal Award, said, “It was an honor to see all my hard work come to fruition.”
He plans to stay local, too.
He has a job as a data analyst lined up at FCCI Insurance in Lakewood Ranch. Work starts next week. But even with all that was happening around him Monday, he said it seemed surreal to be attending graduation.
“It doesn’t seem real,” he said. “It will probably hit me when the (processional) music starts playing.”
Barnes said pretty much the same, that the moment’s significance will sink in once she enters the hall.
“It’s such a milestone for me to reach,” she said. “It means so much to me. It doesn’t feel real at this moment. As I was saying earlier, it almost seems that whenever the ceremony begins is when it actually will hit me.”
Barnes, a marketing major, has been working at Disney World and attending business classes at USFSM for the past two years. She hopes to remain at Disney, saying, “It’s a company I’m very passionate about.”
Anticipating her graduation, she recently interviewed for three marketing-related positions there and expects to hear soon about one of them. When that happens, she plans to relocate to the Orlando area from her home in northwest Bradenton.
“It’s a very big transition, very emotional at my end,” she said. “Everything is changing.”
Also expecting big changes was Angad Singh Dang. Set to receive a master’s degree in hospitality management, Singh Dang said he’s now exploring options related to a doctoral degree.
While one option, to work toward an education degree at USF in Tampa, would keep him close to home, another which focuses on hospitality would have him traveling to Iowa State University.
The dramatic move from Southwest Florida to America’s heartland would force him to say goodbye to local family members, notably his aunt, Dr. Anila Jain, a longtime USF and USFSM supporter, who lives in Manatee County.
On Monday, as he prepared to receive his degree, Dr. Jain and his family from India sat in the audience watching the proceedings.
“As you can imagine, she’s hoping that I stay in this area,” he said. “But Iowa State has a good hospitality program, so we’ll see.”
A graduate of the Institute of Hotel Management in New Delhi, India, Singh Dang came to Florida to attend USFSM’s hospitality program to broaden his knowledge. After eight years as a professional chef in New Delhi, he said wanted to marry his “practical knowledge” with the theoretical.
“Food brings people together and the history of different foods is really an exploration of cultures,” he said.
“What USFSM has done for me is to open new opportunities,” he said. “It’s helped me to grow. I’ve had a one-to-one relationship with all my professors, They know me and they guided me toward my success.”
USFSM also said goodbye to Shawna Machado, who earned a master’s degree in social work. Machado captivated the nation in 2012 when she appeared on the Steve Harvey Show to talk about her journey from homelessness.
She was able to earn a bachelor’s degree at USFSM while living in her car. Her inspirational story led to a full scholarship to earn a master’s degree at USFSM. She now works as a social worker.