Speakers draw on past experiences, share life lessons at spring commencement

Graduates are all smiles at FSU spring
commencement. (FSU Photography/Bill Lax)

A good sense of humor is said to be a sure mark of brilliance.

The brilliant Sir Harry Kroto, Florida State University’s Francis Eppes Professor of Chemistry and the co-recipient of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, opened his Friday evening commencement address by assuring the graduates; “As Henry VIII said to his wives, ‘I shan’t keep you very long.’”

Kroto spoke at the first of Florida State’s three spring commencement ceremonies held May 1 and 2, at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center. FSU President John Thrasher presided over all three ceremonies as the university awarded degrees to more than 6,200 graduating students.

In congratulating the graduates for choosing to attend Florida State, Kroto lauded both the university’s faculty and its “fantastic” student body.

“You’re as good as any that I’ve ever come across,” Kroto said.

Kroto, a native of the United Kingdom, continued by praising the U.S. Constitution as one of the greatest documents ever written and the First Amendment as the most important. He encouraged the graduates to do everything they can to protect them.

“Freedom of speech is the most important one,” he said.

Kroto also touched on freedom of the press, saying the United States currently ranks 43rd out of about 150 nations with a vibrant free press.

“It’s gone down,” he said. “You have to bring it back up. Make sure you do something about it.”

In closing, Kroto encouraged the graduates to give their best effort to whatever they do in life.

“When you go out of here, never put in a second rate effort,” Kroto said. “If you find yourself in a situation where a second-rate effort satisfies you, think about it, look around and find something else where only your best effort will satisfy you in particular.”

Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, commander of U.S. Southern Command, opened his Saturday morning commencement address by telling graduates to grasp and welcome the surprises of life.

“The truth is that none of us knows what life has in store for you as you walk out of this auditorium today,” Kelly said. “You might think you have it all figured out, but the great thing about life is it surprises you — every step along the way it surprises you.”

Kelly stressed to the graduates the importance of maintaining connections to family, friends and neighbors.

“Family, friends and your community aren’t the only things that matter in life,” Kelly said. “They are your lives.”

Kelly, who missed the graduations of each of his three children because he was serving in Iraq, urged the graduates to spend a few minutes every week talking with their parents, family members and close friends.

“Don’t text them, don’t Facebook them, don’t Insta-whatever them,” Kelly said. “Pick up the phone and actually talk to them. Laugh with them, argue with them, cry with them, but for God’s sake, actually call them. Before you end the conversation, tell them you love them and miss them and are lucky to have them.”

Kelly advised the graduates to get to know their neighbors and become active in their communities.

“We all need to reconnect to what I believe make Americans so extraordinary and rediscover why we should be proud of who we are and what we stand for, to be a part of something bigger, to strive for something better — but together — not individually,” Kelly said. “We can find this through service.”

During his 41 years of service to the Marine Corps in conflicts throughout the world, Kelly said he has seen what intolerance can lead to and said, “and it’s not what we are as a Americans.”

“Go forth today with an open mind and be willing to compromise, even just a little bit, for this common good,” Kelly said. “Go forth and make up your own minds as to what your positions and principles are, and when you do, listen to your neighbor’s point of view and at least consider it.”

Kelly closed his remarks by wishing the graduates luck and also a bit of advice.

“Don’t wait for luck to come to you — work hard, show respect for each other and make your own luck,” Kelly said.

Bill Smith, president and CEO of Tallahassee-based Capital City Bank Group, delivered the Saturday afternoon commencement address.

Smith earned a Bachelor’s degree in finance from Florida State in 1976 and has a distinguished record of service to his alma mater. However, he was quick to inform the graduates that the best thing he got out of FSU was his wife, Paula. “The best times of my life have been my 38 years with Paula, who says I’m still a work in progress.”

Smith then drew upon his career in banking and management to share the wealth of his wisdom with graduates.

“I tell the story at every new associate orientation at Capital City Bank that I have read the associate handbook,” Smith said. “It’s way too long. If I had written it, the handbook would only say four things: tell the truth; do it right the first time; don’t let the sun set on a problem; and be really nice.”

The Tallahassee native went on to urge the graduates to avoid a common mistake with their most precious commodities.

“We all waste time and dollars on things we don’t really need,” Smith said. “If you invest that time in something worthwhile, you’ve got a chance to make the world a little better. Find your passion and go for it. Those dollars will look a lot better accumulating for something worthwhile rather than being spent on worthless items that don’t make a difference.”

Smith has certainly made a difference at Florida State. He served as a member of the FSU Foundation board from 1999 to 2010, including service as chairman in 2006-2007. He served as one of four co-chairs of the university’s previous capital fundraising campaign, “FSU Connect,” which raised $617 million. In addition, Smith has served as chairman of the FSU Alumni Association board and is a member of the association’s Circle of Gold. He also served on the board of Seminole Boosters and was inducted into the FSU College of Business’s Hall of Fame in 2009.

Smith concluded with some final words the graduates should take to the bank. “Have fun in life. Be good at what you do. Don’t let anybody outwork you. Wear your Garnet and Gold proudly. Be true to your school. Go Noles!”

Florida State’s Spring 2015 class of graduates represented 31 countries, 47 of 50 states and Washington, D.C.

To view archived webcasts of the spring commencement ceremonies, visit:

Sir Harry Kroto, FSU's Francis Eppes Professor of Chemistry and the co-recipient of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, speaks May 1 commencement. (FSU Photography/Bill Lax)
Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, commander of U.S. Southern Command, delivers the Saturday morning commencement address. (FSU Photography/Bill Lax)
Capital City Bank CEO and FSU alumni Bill Smith speaks to graduates May 2. (FSU Photography/Bill Lax)
Students shed tears of joy at FSU spring commencement. (FSU Photography/Bill Lax)
President John Thrasher congratulates graduates at Florida State's 2015 spring commencement. (FSU Photography/Bill Lax)
Graduates'say cheese' at FSU spring commencement. (FSU Photography/Bill Lax)