Florida State University’s newest graduates were encouraged to believe in themselves and their ability to make an impact on the world during fall commencement Friday, Dec. 15, at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center.
Former Chair of the FSU Board of Trustees Ed Burr addressed the graduates during the afternoon ceremony, and Lilian Garcia-Roig, acclaimed artist and recipient of the 2023-2024 Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor Award, delivered her address at the evening ceremony.
President Richard McCullough presided over each ceremony, including Friday morning’s doctoral hooding ceremony.
Congratulations to all of you. We are pleased to welcome you as alumni of Florida State University. As you leave Florida State, I want to remind each of you that you will always be a Seminole.
— President Richard McCullough
FSU conferred 3,047 degrees Friday, including: 1,909 undergraduate degrees, 885 master and specialist degrees, 127 doctoral degrees, 17 Juris Doctor degrees, 101 Juris Master degrees and 8 LLM degrees. Nearly 2,000 graduates attended the ceremonies.
Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Jim Clark delivered a special address to the new Ph.D. graduates during the doctoral hooding ceremony.
“You all have made significant contributions and advancements in your respective fields,” Clark said. “As the new torchbearers of our great university, I urge you all to embrace your esteemed role as highly respected scholars and leaders.”
During Friday afternoon’s ceremony, Burr, a leader in the real estate industry who graduated from the FSU College of Business with a degree in accounting, assured the graduates that it was natural to be feeling a mix of excitement and uncertainty about what lies ahead.
“You are more prepared than you realize,” Burr said. “The education and experiences you’ve gained at Florida State have equipped you with the skills and knowledge necessary to thrive in any field you choose.”
The founder and CEO of GreenPointe Holdings in Jacksonville, Burr served on the FSU Board of Trustees for 10 years, chairing it from 2015 to 2021. Burr told the graduates that true success is found in the journey — in the lessons learned, the relationships built and the impact made along the way.
“The challenges in today’s world are immense,” Burr said. “But as graduates of Florida State University, you have the skills to take on the challenges of your life and positively impact the world around you.”
As he crossed the stage, Tate Rodemaker, backup quarterback on the Seminole football team, drew cheers from the crowd as Mark Ziegler proudly announced, “He beat the Gators.”
During the evening ceremony, Garcia-Roig, a Cuban-born artist and FSU Department of Art professor since 2001, implored the graduates to embrace curiosity and challenged them to endure and learn from life’s inevitable setbacks.
“We are all going to fail at many of the things we try,” Garcia-Roig said. “Endurance comes from multiple failures that you will have; the failures are not the problem. The problem is forgetting to pick yourself up, analyze why you ‘failed,’ adjust your plan and keep going.”
During her career, Garcia-Roig has built an expansive body of work that graces the collections of major museums worldwide and earned highly competitive and prestigious awards, including the Guggenheim Fellowship in Fine Arts in 2021 and the Joan Mitchell Award in Painting in 2006. Earlier this year, she became the first visual artist to receive the highest honor FSU faculty members can bestow upon one of their own – the Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professorship.
Garcia-Roig urged the graduates to be curious about things they’d never seen before, emphasized the importance of leaving comfort zones and stressed that they should believe in their ability to make an impact.
“You should always be brave and kind to yourself and others, aim high, be curious, look closely and deeply, be persistent, and cultivate endurance, be as resilient as the Seminoles our university has the privilege of honoring as its namesake,” she told the graduates.
New graduates said they will carry from FSU knowledge, friendship and memories that will shape their futures and last a lifetime.
Nigerian native Justice Omeke came to FSU for the comprehensive curriculum at the College of Communication and Information and the vibrant, spirited atmosphere on campus.
“I love FSU for its diversity, vibrant campus life and the unwavering support from faculty members,” Omeke said. “The blend of rigorous academics and a thriving social scene has been instrumental in my growth.”
Omeke plans on working with AI technology to solve complex problems and make a positive impact on society. He said he will embody the Seminole spirit throughout the rest of his career and urges his classmates to do the same.
“To my fellow graduates, as we step into the world, let’s carry the spirit of FSU with us, striving for excellence and making a difference wherever we go,” Omeke said. “I am proud to be a Seminole and I will always cherish my memories at FSU.”
Katarina Daniels has had her eye on a career in social work since she was a teenager. The lure of FSU’s renowned College of Social work proved strong enough to pull her from her home, Huntersville, N.C.
“I got interested in social work because I’ve had very good social workers in my life,” she said. “I was internationally adopted from Ukraine when I was 3 years old, and I noticed the effect of a lack of resources for mental, behavioral and health resources for children.”
Daniels plans to stay at FSU to pursue a master’s degree in social work.
“I want to get my doctorate in social work to do research on adopted children and adopted adults as well as those with experience with orphanages and foster care,” she said. “I think we need a lot of changes in policy for post-adoption services. There are people checking in throughout the adoption process, it’s closely monitored. But once the adoption is finalized there aren’t a lot of checkups. My hope is to do research that impacts policy.”
Daniels said her FSU experience has been all she hoped for.
“I had other options in schools but coming to Florida State was the best decision that I’ve made,” she said. “It’s become a home away from home, a school that supports me with friends who support me.”
Cindy Evans graduated with a doctoral degree from the Department of Art History with specializations in modern and global contemporary art.
After graduation, Evans will work as an assistant professor in the Department of Art & Design at Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah.
“FSU has been my home for the past several years, providing me with friends who have become family and a community who motivates me to be the best historian I can be,” said Evans. “My education at FSU has strengthened my foundation in art history and expanded my vision of how it can impact our understanding of our global community.”
As a Tallahassee native, Molly Creel has always been an FSU fan. However, it was Florida State’s reputation and her desire to join the Marching Chiefs that inspired her to enroll.
“I truly believe that FSU is the greatest university in the world and deciding to come here was the best decision I could’ve made,” Creel said.
Creel’s proudest accomplishments during her time at Florida State were being a part of the Marching Chiefs, serving on the executive board of the music sorority Tau Beta Sigma and working as a social media associate for the Office of University Communications.
After earning her bachelor’s degree in media and communication studies from FSU with honors in spring 2022, Creel graduated with a master’s degree in integrated marketing. She said that this ceremony will be a notable one.
“Walking in this commencement ceremony is special to me because not only will I be graduating with my second degree from Florida State University, but I’ll be the first person in my family to graduate with a master’s degree,” she said.
Creel believes the knowledge and community she cultivated at Florida State will guide her upon graduation.
“Digital marketing and social media management are such a passion of mine,” Creel said. “I look forward to being able to utilize my talents that FSU helped me foster in this new chapter of my life.”
Sean Newby, who graduated with a doctorate in geology, is finally seeing all the hard work he has put in over the past years pay off.
“This commencement will be a culmination of all of the effort I have put in through all of my time here,” Newby said. “Being able to defend my dissertation covering all of the research I had done over these past six and a half years and receiving praise from my committee made all of this time worth it.”
During his time at FSU, Newby made new friends, gained professional experience as a teacher and researcher, and published papers and manuscripts. Now, he will further his academic career with a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Hong Kong.
“I have worked with many great people, a large number of whom I now consider close friends, have taught a large number of different courses, had opportunities to take leadership roles and to publish a paper in a high-profile research journal,” he said.
Zeinab Elmi graduated with a doctoral degree in civil engineering from the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering. During her time at FSU, she worked with her adviser, Associate Professor Maxim Dulebenets, to publish eight articles that have been cited more than 160 times. She also presented her research at numerous academic conferences and contributed to work for the Florida Department of Transportation, U.S. Department of Defense and the National Science Foundation.
Elmi plans to use her expertise in operations research and transportation engineering to improve safety, sustainability and efficiency in infrastructure projects.
“Commencement excites me because it represents the culmination of years of hard work, growth and perseverance,” she said. “It’s a moment of immense pride and joy for not only me, but also for my family, adviser and everyone who has helped me along the way. I’ll carry the memories of late-night study sessions, the thrill of academic breakthroughs and the friendships formed. This is an inspiring start to a new adventure where I can make a difference in my field and the world.”
International student Mariana Vlieg graduated with honors from the FSU Jim Moran College of Entrepreneurship.
Originally from Panama City, Panama, Vlieg transferred to FSU’s main campus in Tallahassee after completing two years of undergraduate studies at FSU-Panama using the 2+2 scholarship, which allows students from Latin American and Caribbean countries to study for two years at FSU’s branch campus in the Republic of Panama before transferring to complete their degree in Tallahassee.
With her family making the journey from the Republic of Panama to Tallahassee for the graduation ceremony, Vlieg said this moment means a lot to her.
“It is an exciting and emotional milestone for me because it is four years of hard work coming to fruition,” she said. “I am also talking about my parents’ hard work because they are the ones who provided me with the opportunity to study in the United States. Without them, I wouldn’t be here.”
Vlieg, who will return to Panama after commencement, said the favorite part of her FSU experience has been the people.
“I know that the friendships I have made at FSU are for life,” she said. “I also love the school spirit and sense of belonging. Everyone here is proud to be a Nole! What I will miss the most is the friends that I am leaving behind as I graduate.”