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Published: May 07, 2024

Graduation Speeches Emphasize Perseverance, Doing Good

On Saturday, the University honored more than 1,900 graduates in morning and afternoon ceremonies at the Florida State Fairgrounds. 

On Saturday, the University honored more than 1,900 graduates in morning and afternoon ceremonies at the Florida State Fairgrounds.

In the morning, the College of Arts and Letters and the College of Business graduates heard from student challenge speaker Dhanasree Arivalagan M.S. ‘24. 

Arivalagan told a story that encouraged graduates to work more efficiently: 

An old lumberjack and a young man were competing to see who could chop more wood. The older man took more breaks, while the young man kept chopping away. 

When the young lumberjack asked how he could have chopped more wood with so many breaks, the old lumberjack responded that he was not resting, but sharpening his axe. 

“As we transition to the next phase of our lives, let us continue sharpening our axe of knowledge, by leveraging the tools that are available to us and using the wisdom imparted by our incredible professors,” Arivalagan told the crowd. 

“The University of Tampa has been an exceptional source of education and support, elevating our learning journey to extraordinary heights. Not only for personal gain but for the betterment of others.” 

She challenged the graduating Spartans to harness their understanding for the greater good and to extend help to others. 

Arivalagan introduced the featured commencement speaker for the morning, Marty Rifkin ’82, co-founder of Northwest Natural Products.

Rifkin took a moment to recognize the perseverance of the class of 2024, many of whom began their college careers during the COVID-19 pandemic, before reminding graduates that life lessons are everywhere. 

“Don’t focus only on your successes. Your failures are also gold,” he told the graduating class.  

Rifkin said that maybe someone in the audience has an idea to change an industry but has self-doubt.

Don’t underestimate the impact each of you will have,” he assured the graduates, “even if your idea is new and a little misunderstood.

It’s the small things, Rifkin said, that lead to bigger things, and ultimately what set you apart from the crowd.

“You need to plan and execute big and not just dream big,” he said.

He left the crowd with a quote from UT President Ronald L. Vaughn, stating, “You’re either getting better, or you’re getting worse. There is no in-between. You can’t stand still.” 

The afternoon commencement speaker, Dr. Xavier Cannella ’78, peripheral vascular and general surgeon, also recognized Vaughn.

He noted that when Vaughn became president, the University was facing daunting challenges.

“Through his leadership, commitment and vision the school has first risen and then taken flight, increasing its enrollment from approximately 2,400 students to over 11,000 students, increasing its endowment and improving its already envious standards, establishing itself as a true landmark of learning,” he said.

Cannella told graduates of the College of Natural Health and Sciences and College of Social Sciences, Mathematics and Education to contemplate the mark they wish to leave on the world, starting now.

“Seize each dawn as a fresh opportunity to grow and to refine your purpose,” he said.

Prior to Canella’s speech, Hope Pohlman ’24 provided the student speaker challenge, and noted the challenges the Class of 2024 faced and overcame.

“I challenge you to embrace every opportunity that comes your way with courage and conviction,” she told the crowd.

“Do not let fear of the unknown hold you back. Take risks, step out of your comfort zone and seize the moment with unwavering determination.”

She challenged the graduates to make their lives their own, continue to grow and never be afraid of taking chances.

For more about UT’s  158th commencement, visit

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