Florida State University graduates received inspiring advice from two of the university’s most distinguished professors — a scholar of Shakespeare and a nuclear astrophysicist — during fall commencement ceremonies Friday at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center.
English Professor Gary Taylor and Physics Professor Jorge Piekarewicz — who were named Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professors earlier this year — delivered the commencement addresses. The Lawton award is the highest honor FSU faculty can bestow upon one of their own.
President Richard McCullough presided over the ceremonies for the first time since becoming the university’s 16th president in August.
“We are assembled to pay tribute to our graduates who have worked hard to earn their degrees and who will today embark on new journeys,” McCullough said. “On behalf of the university and this assembly, I congratulate them and wish them success.”
The university conferred 2,849 total degrees this fall: 1,904 bachelor’s degrees, 777 master’s/specialist degrees, 108 doctorates, while the College of Law conferred 60 degrees. About 1,900 students participated in the two ceremonies.
Taylor, chair of the English department, delivered a succinct and compelling three-minute speech at the 2 p.m. ceremony. He called upon graduates to become the “greater-than-greatest” generation.
“What history calls your generation will depend on what you do when you leave this building,” Taylor said. “But you are already the tipping-point generation, and FSU has given you the tools, skills, experience and confidence to become the greater-than-greatest generation.”
“What history calls your generation will depend on what you do when you leave this building. But you are already the tipping-point generation, and FSU has given you the tools, skills, experience and confidence to become the greater-than-greatest generation.”
— Gary Taylor, professor in the English Department
Graduates don’t need to be perfect or have superhero powers, Taylor said. Rather, they just need to be good enough to overcome the challenges they face.
“We already know you are good enough — you have gotten here, to this finishing line, this starting line, after the most disruptive, unpredictable, exhausting, stressful, tragic 21 months in the last century of American higher education,” Taylor said. “What will make you the greater-than-greatest generation is that you are good enough to overcome the greatest challenges.”
Piekarewicz, who spoke at the 7 p.m. ceremony, drew from his love of theoretical nuclear physics and the struggles he’s had explaining to others why his work is useful. He relayed the frustrations of having to answer the question “When are you going to get a real job?” — after he’d earned his doctorate.
“That problem got solved once I landed what turned out to be a permanent job here at FSU — although it still took some effort to convince a few skeptics that a job as a professor at a university is a highly respectable job,” he said. “Unfortunately, the question of ‘what are the practical applications of what you do?’ lingered much longer.”
“Remember, that we all have the potential to be the Peter Pans of this world who never grow up and never stop asking questions.”
— Jorge Piekarewicz, professor in the Department of Physics
Inspired by his favorite physicist, Richard Feynman, Piekarewicz reminded his audience that the pursuit of knowledge is a worthy objective in and of itself.
“What is the use of discovering the age of the universe or finding out how stars shine?” he asked. “Nonetheless, these questions are interesting, are pursued to quench our thirst for knowledge, and help us push the envelope of human innovation.”
In short, we seek answers for the simple pleasure of finding things out.
“Remember, that we all have the potential to be the Peter Pans of this world who never grow up and never stop asking questions,” he said.
Hanna Franz, from Naples, Florida, graduated Friday with a bachelor’s degree in environmental science and a minor in earth, ocean, and atmospheric sciences. She plans to attend law school next fall with hopes of a career in environmental law.
“Walking in this fall’s commencement ceremony is such a great way to wrap up the last 3 1/2 years at Florida State,” Franz said. “With so much that we didn’t get to experience during a pandemic, I am glad that we got to have this ceremony.”
Originally from Midland, Texas, Kile Carriger graduated Friday with a master’s degree in accounting from the College of Business. A former member of FSU’s swim team, she will start her career at an accounting firm in Tampa next summer.
“The people for sure are what I’m going to miss the most (about FSU),” Carriger said. “I learned here that it really does take a village to succeed. Everything I’ve been able to accomplish here is because of the support from the spectacular teachers, coaches and friends I’ve made. It’s a little bittersweet, and I’m bummed to be leaving my friends but at the same time I’m excited to open up this next chapter.”
A first-generation student from Bhatkal, India, Fathima Kazia completed her bachelor’s degree from the College of Social Work in less than 3 1/2 years. She credits FSU for offering resources essential to her success, like the Center for Academic Retention and Enhancement (CARE), which provides preparation and academic support programming for first-generation college students.
“This commencement ceremony is memorable to me and my loved ones,” Kazia said. “Coming from an immigrant family, I am a first-generation student who will be the first to graduate from a university in my family. Each step of the walk in the 2021 fall commencement ceremony will weigh heavy with emotion for me.”
Kazia said FSU’s diverse student body was an integral part of her experience.
“With students from all over the world, diverse backgrounds and cultures, FSU welcomes everyone with open arms,” she said. “The diversity at FSU leads to many beautiful connections that last past graduation.”
LaQuanta Rosier is the assistant director of finance and administration at FSU’s College of Medicine. She’s also the proud owner of two graduate degrees from FSU after earning a master’s degree in accounting to go with the MBA she earned in 2015.
Rosier, the mother of two children, worked full time as she earned her degree. She said she couldn’t have done it without her husband and supporters at the College of Medicine and the College of Business.
“I feel really good telling my daughter and son that they can do it,” she said. “I want to be a role model for them in valuing academic achievement and knowledge and education, period.”
Carlos Rodriguez, from Pembroke Pines, Florida, graduated from the College of Business with a dual degree in management information systems and marketing with a minor in Italian studies. Next month, he’ll move to Boston to start a job as a sales representative for Johnson & Johnson.
Rodriguez, played the alto saxophone for the Marching Chiefs and the Seminole Sound, said FSU’s close-knit campus is what he’ll miss the most.
“Florida State is a community built on camaraderie and friendship, and I think it was perfect for me because of that,” Rodriguez said. “I’m really going to miss this environment where you make new friends and learn from their shared experiences.”