Saint Leo Honors Over 1,100 New Graduates
April 30, 2016
More than 1,000 new degree recipients celebrated their success on Friday, April 29, and Saturday, April 30, at University Campus during Saint Leo’s annual commencement ceremonies.
The university hosted three commencement ceremonies. On Friday evening, 320 adult learners who studied online or in classrooms were awarded bachelor’s degrees. Saturday morning, nearly 415 master’s degrees were awarded across a variety of disciplines, and on Saturday afternoon, another 411 undergraduates who studied at University Campus were recognized. President William J. Lennox Jr., conferred the degrees at all three graduations.
On Friday night, U.S. Representative David W. Jolly (pictured), from Florida’s 13thCongressional District, which includes most of Pinellas County, was the guest speaker.
Jolly advised the Class of 2016 to be honest, be kind, persevere, and “always take your responsibility seriously, but never take yourself seriously.”
For Saturday morning graduate commencement, Dr. Rod Paige (pictured), former U.S. Secretary of Education (2001-2005) under President George W. Bush, offered the address. Paige is a champion of education reform.
Dr. Paige offered some sage advice to the new graduates: “Always be mindful of our democratic republic and make a commitment to serve mankind. Think about your role in shaping tomorrow and find a way to serve that makes your life richer, better, and fuller.”
Saturday afternoon’s undergraduate commencement ceremony speaker was Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn (pictured). Buckhorn was sworn in as the 58th mayor of the nation’s 53rd largest city in 2011 and was reelected in 2015.
Buckhorn made a pitch to keep the Class of 2016 in the Tampa Bay area, placing value on the knowledge and skills they gained at Saint Leo. “I want the intellectual capital to stay here,” he said. “We want the best and the brightest.”
The mayor offered the students several “pearls” including:
● When life knocks you down, get back up.
● Be bold!
● Be fearless.
● Take a seat at the table.
● Be a uniter.
Several graduating students were selected to address classmates with farewell remarks. Friday evening, two students delivered farewell addresses: Sarah Pass, who is earning the Bachelor of Arts in accounting, represented the Adult Education Center at University Campus, and Jonathan Ashton, who studied for the Bachelor of Arts in business administration – management, represented the Center for Online Learning.
“I always find it amusing where fate puts us, the little reminders we are given if we pay attention, as we are going through our lives,” Pass said. “Three years ago, on April 29, 2013, without exaggeration, I almost died.” Pass was diagnosed with a genetic blood-clotting disorder and spent 31 days in the hospital.
“People talk in clichés about dying, but I can tell you in all honesty that every single regret you’ve ever had will come bursting uncontrollably into your mind. . .I had two. The first was not spending enough time with my family and my close friends, and the other was not completing my degree decided to make a change.”
She told her fellow graduates that all of them made a decision to improve their lives. “Most importantly, when we felt exhausted and sometimes overwhelmed, we kept pushing,” she said.
Ashton, also kept pushing. He has served in the U.S. Navy for more than 13 years and graduated from the prestigious Nuclear Power School. He served on the USS Scranton and the USS California. With his business administration-management degree in hand, he will apply to officer candidate school.
“I’ve never had the honor to walk across the gradation stage and be handed a diploma. I failed myself my senior year of high school, and was unable to walk because of it,” Ashton said. “I finished with a 1.98 GPA.
“When I decided to go back to school. I knew I would not just settle for all right,” he continued. “I wanted to prove to myself that I could have done this all along. I actually more than doubled my high school GPA. I cannot believe how far I’ve come and to think it only took me 14 years to get here.”
At the graduate ceremony on Saturday morning, Tiffany Watson, a Master of Theology degree recipient, delivered the farewell address on behalf of the Class of 2016.
“Challenges are what being a graduate student is all about; balancing life while making necessary sacrifices to achieve a goal. Challenges inspire us all,” she told her classmates.
Watson used Saint Leo’s six core values as examples to follow throughout life. “They prepare is to be citizens of the world and mercy, compassion, and respect should be at the center of our lives.”
She cited Pope Francis and Malala (Yousafzai), the Pakistani student who was shot by the Taliban in October 2012 for going to school, as models of compassion and mercy. Malala survived to tell the world her story of the importance of education for young girls. “She made a difference in the world. She inspired all of us. What will we do to make a difference?,” Watson asked her fellow graduates.
On Saturday afternoon, Masterson Dempsey, who earned a Bachelor of Arts in the International Hospital and Tourism Management program, reflecting on Saint Leo’s core values, told his fellow classmates that the most important one is personal development: “While at Saint Leo, you develop yourself. If you do that authentically, people can tell, and if you’re an authentic version of you, it inspires other people and it keeps you happy because you’re not being fake to anyone. I think the truth shines through.”
Dempsey is the grandson of Tom Dempsey, chairman and CEO of Saddlebrook Resort in Wesley Chapel, FL, who received an honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Saint Leo in 2008 and is a trustee emeritus. He presented Masterson, and his sister, Alexis, who graduated with an MBA during the morning commencement exercises, with their degrees.
Many of the graduates will be moving into the professional workforce for the first time, while others are hoping to advance in their careers with their new degrees. Saint Leo will draw some of the Class of 2016 back for graduate degrees in business, accounting, social work, and theology. Some will further their education at other institutions, including these:
- Mekayla Davilla, a psychology major with a
minor in criminal justice, has been admitted to Teacher’s College,
Columbia University, to study mental health counseling, and to earn
her license. She would eventually like to earn her doctorate in
- Katie DeMeritte, a history major with a middle
grades education minor and a political science minor, will attend
the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. She’s enrolled in the
master’s program in history with a museum studies specialization.
Katie learned the day before her graduation that she is one of only
15 undergraduates nationally to be selected as a Gilder Lehrman
History Scholar Award recipient, based on her academic
accomplishments and recommendations. This is a first for Saint Leo
- Ryan Hart, received a bachelor’s degree in global studies. He is a member of the ROTC Suncoast Battalion, and will be commissioned in December. He plans to study crisis management in grad school and pursue it as his career. He aims to be a Military Intelligence Officer in the Florida National Guard.
- Ashley Reynolds who majored in global
studies and English with professional writing specialization,
aspires to be a Foreign Service Officer. She has been admitted to
American University in Washington, D.C. for a master’s program in
peace and conflict resolution studies. She was also admitted to
George Washington University for a similar program.
- Janelle Sventek, a biology major (biomedical track), with a minor in chemistry, has been admitted to the University of Incarnate Word, Rosenberg School of Optometry. There are only 22 optometry schools in the nation. She has done liver cancer research with a Saint Leo professor and during a summer internship at Massachusetts General Hospital.