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Published: May 12, 2021

Commencement Speakers Say Adversity Has Set Them Up For Change

Allen Lopez ’21 said he learned a lot at UT, from balancing a ledger to learning the Greek alphabet to even the proper form for deadlifting weights. The biggest lesson: adapting to change.

“Not all change comes easily, not always is it by choice, but in order to grow, in order to survive we must all withstand change,” said Lopez, who earned a communication degree, in his commencement challenge speech to the College of Business. “It is through our ability and our requirement to adapt that we will hopefully see the horizon of a new normal soon, and although socially distant, we are definitely not alone.”

Plant Hall
Each of the University’s four colleges had its own livestreamed and each graduate received a personalized video commemorating their achievement from one of UT’s iconic landmarks.

Lopez was one of the 1,781 graduates participating in UT’s 152nd commencement, which was a virtual experience on May 8. Each of the University’s four colleges had its own livestreamed event including remarks by President Ronald Vaughn, academic deans and student challenge speakers. A downloadable version of the ceremony is now available. In addition, each graduate received a personalized video commemorating their achievement from one of UT’s iconic landmarks.

Maredh Lopez Ocasio, an international student from Puerto Rico who earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology, told the graduates of the College of Natural and Health Sciences that she dreamed of graduating from an American university ever since she was six years old. “Today is the time to celebrate everything we have accomplished. This is the time to put our heads up and believe we can do anything,” she said.

To the College of Social Sciences, Mathematics and Education, Julia Ingram noted that the last year will be remembered as much for what happened off campus as what happened in the classroom. Despite the challenges that COVID-19 presented, their adopted hometown of Tampa became “Champa Bay” with the Lightning winning the Stanley Cup, the Rays going to the World Series and the Buccaneers winning the Super Bowl. 

“This year has shown us that we are strong and resilient. We did not let uncertainty and fear overwhelm us,” said Ingram, a member of the women’s basketball team who majored in political science and international studies. “We adjusted to online learning and used platforms like Zoom and FaceTime to connect with professors, family and friends from a distance. We also took to the streets wearing masks to march against social injustice.” 

Continuing with this drive for change, Karla Maiden-Vazquez asked her peers in the College of Arts and Letters to be the next trailblazers working toward social change and justice.

“Because if four kids can walk into a diner in North Carolina where they were not welcome and start a revolution; if a 15-year-old girl can inspire an international movement for climate change; if an 11-year-old Pakistani activist can fight for the education of women in a country where that right is not easily attained, then you can do anything,” said Maiden-Vazquez, a musical theatre major. “Our generation is the next to make change happen.”

For photos and sentiments shared by the graduates on social media, check out



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