SARASOTA, Fla. (Dec. 14, 2015) – Ashley Metelus said she found her calling at USF Sarasota-Manatee.
Awaiting her chance to walk in USFSM’s graduation procession, the 23-year-old “Outstanding Graduate” admitted to having mixed feelings. She said she relished the opportunity awaiting her as a research assistant at the Boston-based children’s advocacy organization Horizons for Homeless Children, but admitted to feeling “a little sad” that her time at USFSM was ending.
Specifically, it was during a trip to Uganda in 2013 when the Interdisciplinary Social Sciences major discovered her calling as a researcher. Traveling with Dr. Jody McBrien, Metelus interviewed child survivors of Uganda’s civil war, chronicling their stories.
“The Uganda trip got me interested in research and interviewing and to pursue that field full time as a career,” said Metelus, who grew up in Davenport, Polk County.
She continued to make the most of her time at USFSM, working as a research assistant for three professors and a graduate student and winning recognition from four honor societies for academic achievement.
Metelus was among 230 USF Sarasota-Manatee students who were conferred bachelor and master’s degrees in a two-hour commencement ceremony Sunday punctuated frequently by laughter, tears, applause and shouts from jubilant family members.
While not every graduate received their calling at USFSM, such as Metelus, most likely were shaped in some way by their experience there.
When asked what they valued most about USFSM, many of the graduates echoed what Megan Uberti, 25, a student in the College of Education, and Arthur Mugan, 28, an English major, said: The small classroom sizes and close relationships with their professors and fellow students.
“You really get to know your professors and you’re held to a high standard,” said Mugan, who planned to get married and continue his studies in Tennessee, possibly at Vanderbilt University.
Uberti, who received a master’s degree in secondary education, English education, said: “The small classrooms and kind faculty and caring staff really made a difference for me. Everyone was super helpful and very supportive.”
She said she hopes to continue working at a college. She’s set to teach a couple courses at State College of Florida this spring and will continue to work at USFSM’s Career Services office.
For Peggy O’Connor, 30, of St. Petersburg, her reward for two years of study was a master’s degree in business administration – plus a sense of renewed confidence.
One of 16 to receive a master’s, O’Connor said her degree will enable her to make bigger impact at any job she undertakes, including at her current employer, the Home Shopping Network in St. Petersburg.
O’Connor’s graduation experience was made more meaningful because her mother, Jane O’Connor, also received a diploma– a bachelor’s degree in business and technical writing.
Although the two did not encounter each other on campus because of scheduling differences, O’Connor said her mother, “inspired me to work on my master’s degree.”
She did not plan to march with the other graduates, however. O’Connor explained, “She’d rather take pictures and cheer for me.”
Regional Chancellor Dr. Sandra Stone and USF System President Dr. Judy Genshaft presided over USFSM’s 64th commencement, which was held at the Bradenton Area Convention Center in Palmetto.
Several students and one faculty member received special recognition. In addition to Metelus being named “Outstanding Graduate,” Amber Haller received the “Golden Bull Service and Outstanding Leadership Award” for academic achievement and service toward others, and Matthew Bertrand, a Manatee County sheriff’s deputy, was named the “King O’Neal Scholar” for achieving a perfect academic score in all of his courses.
Dr. Jean Kabongo, an associate professor in the College of Business, was presented the “Outstanding Professor Award” by USFSM’s Student Government Association.
As the graduates processed through the convention center toward their seats, friends and family members behind them erupted in cheers.
“Your legacy at USF Sarasota-Manatee is built not only on what you accomplished while on campus, but by what you continue to achieve in your careers and lives moving forward,” Dr. Stone told the graduates. “Thank you for being a part of our legacy and allowing us to be a part of yours.”