SARASOTA, Fla. (Dec. 12, 2016) It didn’t hit her 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 at the Bradenton Area Convention Center. But as she got dressed for the graduation exercise she felt a sudden 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 ceremony played out, Caba realized those hugs and goodbyes would include her “Take Stock in Children” mentor Elaine Graham, who pushed her as a student at Southeast High in Bradenton to focus on academics. She also bid farewell to the Habitat for Humanity chapter she help launch at USFSM and the Spanish club she founded.
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 the invitation 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 range of emotions during the ceremony at the Bradenton Area Convention Center. Of the 195 students who received degrees, including 25 who earned master’s degrees, about 100 attended the commencement.
Dat Vu, who graduated with a master’s in business administration, called the event “bittersweet,” saying it culminated years of study, starting as an undergraduate accounting student.
After getting his bachelor’s degree at USFSM 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 his master’s degree.
Along with the excitement of graduating – and the sadness at leaving USFSM – he said she also felt a wave of relief at completing his education: “I’m not sure what I’m going to do with all this free time now,” he said, laughing.
He won’t be idle long, though. Soon, Vu will be studying for the CPA exam. “But I want to work for a little while,” he said.
Brad Boserup 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 rub shoulders with USFSM 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 also miss the small class sizes at USFSM.
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 that 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 their three children for their support and understanding. Additionally, Bowman received special recognition during the ceremony.
In 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.
About USF Sarasota-Manatee (USFSM)
USF Sarasota-Manatee is a regional campus of the University of South Florida system, offering the prestige of a nationally ranked research university with the convenience of a hometown location, including classes in Manatee County, Venice and online. Separately accredited, USFSM is ideal for those interested in pursuing a baccalaureate or master’s degree, professional certification, or continuing education credit in a small, personal setting with distinguished faculty and a dynamic curriculum of over 40 academic programs. Website: www.usfsm.edu.