Life-changing experiences almost always occur without warning but often arise because of decisions we’ve made earlier, so take them as the gifts they are – and appreciate the people who helped make them possible.
That was part of the wisdom imparted Saturday, Dec. 17, to graduates by Dr. Quinton White, Executive Director of the Jacksonville University Marine Science Research Institute, as JU celebrated its Fall 2016 Commencement.
“Your life will not be determined by any one big decision, but by countless little ones, most with unseen consequences. Relax and just work hard and do your best,” said Dr. White, the first sitting JU professor ever to deliver a Commencement keynote at the University. His spirited address also touched upon the environment, plusses and perils of technology and the onslaught of “fake news” that is blurring the ability to separate fact from fiction.
With thick early-morning fog giving way to bright skies, the 82-year-old University awarded 366 degrees at the ceremony held under a canopy of towering oaks on its Science Green. Of the total, the most-awarded degrees included 152 bachelor of nursing degrees, 83 master of nursing degrees and 32 master of business administration degrees. Sixty-two students graduated with Latin honors, which are earned by students with a minimum GPA of 3.50 with 60 graded credits at JU. In addition, two students graduated with their bachelor’s degrees and earned University Honors.
JU President Tim Cost praised the graduates, who have gained their educations during an unprecedented era of growth and improvement in the campus’ grounds, facilities, faculty and programs.
“I offer my warmest congratulations and all the respect due you. You have shown yourselves to be dynamic, collaborative and energetic achievers. You have excelled, and have made this University far better than the one you entered,” Cost said. “With new talent, new investment and new programs, Jacksonville University is open to all possibilities and bringing excellence to the community and beyond.”
Top highlights of the past year include:
- JU Charter Week celebrated JU’s 82 years with an expansive program that included more than 1,000 students, faculty, staff and alumni volunteering at more than a dozen venues throughout Arlington.
- An agreement was announced with Nelson Holdings, which will open the $18 million, 120-bed Dolphin Pointe Landing skilled nursing center just north of campus in 2018, linking JU students with older individuals in an unprecedented, real-world learning experience.
- The University was named an Exercise Is Medicine (EIM) Campus, one of only 71 in the U.S. with this designation, and also was honored with official Tree Campus USA® recognition by the Arbor Day Foundation for its commitment to effective urban forest management.
- The University unveiled a completely reimagined Terry Concert Hall with $600,000 in facelifts; opened a new full-service Starbucks in the Kinne University Center, one of only two on small college campuses in Florida; and announced a $6 million major renovation of its 132-room Williams Hall, with housing available to incoming freshmen beginning fall 2017.
- JU honored pioneering documentary filmmaker Ken Burns with its second Presidential Global Citizen Award.
- The School of Aviation received authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration for its graduates to be eligible for the Restricted Air Transport Pilot Certificate (R-ATP) with 1,000 hours of flight time versus the traditional 1,500 hours, a critical achievement in the history of the school.
- President Cost earned a prestigious spot on the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I Board of Directors, the NCAA’s top governance panel.
- Nearly 500 student-athletes competed in 19 Division I sports, with women winning three championship titles: basketball’s first-ever ASUN championship, indoor and outdoor track and field’s 11th straight league titles, and the third consecutive Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Rowing crown.
- The School of Orthodontics announced a new Master of Science in Dentistry that will make its curriculum among the most valued for professionals seeking to advance their careers and credentials.
- Tommy Harrison, Professor of Commercial Music, Music Business and Recording, became one of a rare breed in academia as he signed a record deal with 405 Hollywood/Atlantic Records.
(See more highlights of 2016 at the end of this story, as well as a photo gallery.)
At the commencement ceremony, Cost bestowed the degrees and presented the Fred B. Noble Gold Medal for Scholarship to the graduating student with the highest cumulative grade point average in JU’s Fall Class of 2016: Gregory Scott Milligan of Jacksonville, who graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree with a double major of Sustainability and Management.
In his introduction of Dr. White, Cost, a 1981 JU alumnus, described him as a man on a passionate mission to mix inspiring education with advocacy, all the while focusing on championing our area’s waterways and marine life.
Known as “Mr. Science of Northeast Florida,” Dr. White joined the faculty at Jacksonville University in 1976. A Professor of Biology and Marine Science, he has written numerous research and technical papers and reports, attracted hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants and contracts for marine research at JU, and is responsible for the $10 million, 32,000-square-foot, LEED Gold-certified MSRI on campus.
He was a key drafter of the City of Jacksonville’s Manatee Protection Plan and is a passionate advocate for these vulnerable marine mammals. He serves as an expert resource to civic groups, government agencies, elementary school children and college students; writes a monthly column in The Florida Times-Union called “River Life”; and has won a trove of awards, including the Florida Wildlife Federation Marine Conservationist of the Year in 2015, Regional Leadership Award from the Northeast Florida Regional Council and City of Jacksonville’s Christi P. Veleta Environmental Award in 2014.
In a keynote that drew laughs as well as knowing nods, Dr. White told the students to expect change and observe the world and people around them.
He spoke of desires in his life and career that never came to be, but of events and choices that led to service in Vietnam that dramatically shaped him; unplanned-for research that led to completion of his Ph.D.; and employment at JU as a visiting professor where he met his wife-to-be, pediatrician Dr. Susan Hite White, and then led a lengthy, fruitful career in the marine sciences.
Each step of progress was aided by someone’s help and influence, he noted, quoting poet John Donne’s “No Man is an Island” to drive home his point.
“Human beings do not thrive when isolated from others. I am concerned about the use of technology today … Texting is not talking, and it is communication in a very limited way,” Dr. White said. “Get to know people in a meaningful way. Having a bunch of Facebook friends and LinkedIn connections, Twitter or Instagram followers is pretty shallow.”
Instead, growth comes from real interaction, he said, along with consistently submersing oneself in subjects such as art, music, literature, the humanities, science and mathematics.
“Read. And I don’t mean on your phone,” he implored the students. “Read newspapers, magazines, books … try to understand what is happening around you and why. Fake news is a huge problem — a great deal of fiction, untruths and false information is out there. Some people say things long enough and loud enough, and folks start to think they are true.”
And while their futures will be “amazing” as technology becomes more powerful and life more convenient, Dr. White closed on a cautionary note on the subject nearest and dearest to him: the ecology. His hope is that over the years he has imparted enough knowledge and inspiration that his students and the public understand the importance of preserving it.
“I do hope at some point we come to understand that in order to have a healthy, vibrant economy, we must have a clean and healthy ecosystem. Jobs are not more important than clean air and water. We can have both, but it requires thoughtful, intelligent and well-educated people.
“That is where you come in.”
ADDITIONAL 2016 HIGHLIGHTS
- The University partnered with Duval County Public Schools to provide speech and language services to the GRASP Academy, an innovative school that assists students who have documented challenges in reading, writing and math.
- Student-athletes boasted a 3.13 grade point average in the fall, for the second-highest departmental term GPA ever recorded.
- Libertarian Vice Presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld spoke at the Public Policy Institute.
- The Master of Business Administration and Executive MBA was again rated as Tier One degree programs in the international CEO Magazine’s 2016 Global MBA Rankings.
- Bob Sallis, founder and chair of the worldwide Exercise is Medicine initiative, was a Brooks Rehabilitation College of Healthcare Sciences Distinguished Lecturer.
- Doug Rand, Assistant Director for Entrepreneurship at the White House Office of Science and Technology, discussed “The State of Entrepreneurism in the United States.”
- The University was selected among the top schools on the Military Times “Best for Vets Colleges 2017” list, the most prestigious of such designations. It also was named to Victory Media’s 2017 Military Friendly® Schools and Employers list, and earned its Gold Award for being a Small Private School with outstanding programs and support for veterans and their families.
- The fledgling Varsity Sailing Team earned a bid to the Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association National Championships again, for three of its first four years. Its Women’s team also for the first time gained a spot in the ICSA Women’s National Championship.
- The Orthodontics Class of 2016 earning a 100% pass rate on the American Board of Orthodontics’ (ABO) written exam — the fourth straight year that all JU School of Orthodontics graduates gained membership into JU’s “100% Club.”
- The Varsity Shooting Team grabbed HOA (High Overall) National titles in Handicap Trap and Trap Doubles at the Scholastic Clay Target Program (SCTP) National Championships.
- The Public Policy Institute co-hosted debates among candidates for State Attorney for the Fourth Judicial Circuit, U.S. Representative for Florida Congressional District 4 and U.S. Representative for Congressional District 5.
- Notre Dame constitutional law expert Amy Coney Barrett, a former clerk for the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, discussed the future of the U.S. Supreme Court in the Public Policy Institute’s fourth annual Hesburgh Lecture.
- JU announced the launch of the region’s only fully online, business-focused Sport Management master’s degree.
- Associate Professor of Art History Cheryl Sowder played a key role A long-running project in the excavation of a pair of water wells at the site of Cetamura del Chianti in Italy that turned up a treasure trove of ancient Etruscan and Roman artifacts.