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Help yourself by helping others, Dr. Tracy Connors tells JU graduates


By Phillip J. Milano

You can help contribute to your own success by making sure you find a way to help others reach their dreams.

That was some of the main advice keynote speaker Dr. Tracy Connors offered Saturday, Dec. 14, as Jacksonville University bestowed degrees on nearly 400 graduates, one of its largest Fall Commencement classes ever. (See Facebook photo gallery at http://ow.ly/rLL3Q)

JU Fall 2013 Commencement speaker Capt. Tracy Connors

“One of your challenges – and I dare say responsibilities, as you transition to JU Alumni – is to help sustain the JU legacy, and to find your own personal way to help ensure that those who come after you can also fulfill their dreams,” said Connors, a retired Navy captain who accepted two honorary degrees Saturday.

His fresh approach to the lively address used a healthy dose of advice the graduates themselves offered in a recent online survey about their most memorable JU experiences.

The University awarded 80 master’s degrees, including 41 MBAs and 32 MSNs on Saturday. The most degrees among the 308 bachelors offered were in Nursing, at 182, followed by Bachelors of Science, 68, and Business Administration, 33. Graduates hailed from 35 states and six foreign countries. The most popular majors were Nursing, followed by Graduate Business (MBA) and Social Science.

Thirty-eight bachelor students graduated with Latin honors, which are awarded to students who earn a minimum GPA of 3.50 with 60 graded credits at JU.

JU Fall 2013 Fred B. Noble Award winners Sarah Mecklenburg, Matthew D. Smith and Zachary Taylor Greenwald

The Fred B. Noble Award for outstanding scholarship was given to Sarah Mecklenburg, originally from Germany; Matthew D. Smith of Warren, Ohio; and Zachary Taylor Greenwald of Palm Coast. The award, given to the graduating seniors with the highest grade point average, is named for the late Fred B. Noble, who earned a JU bachelor’s degree at age 91 and was a founder of the University. All three of this year’s winners maintained 4.0 grade point averages.

Saturday’s event on the JU Science Green marked the first Fall Commencement presided over by JU President Tim Cost, who began his tenure in February of this year. He welcomed the graduates into the JU alumni family.

Cost’s tenure has been marked by rapid improvements in facilities and programs. In just the last semester, JU welcomed its largest student body in many years (more than 4,000); continued work on its new College of Health Sciences building; opened a completely overhauled Riverview Café, received more than $1.2 million in research grants for its College of Health Sciences; made a 10th straight appearance as one of “America’s Best Colleges”; ranked in the top one percent among all Florida colleges for “Return on Investment” for graduates; completed a Student Veterans study center; and began work on a $1 million re-imagining of its River House as a campus gathering spot.

“To our graduates, I offer my warmest congratulations and all the respect due you,” he said. “You have excelled, made us proud, and we will gladly be linked together … forever.”

Dr. Connors, who attended JU from 1957 to 1959 and now has a Ph.D. in Human Services Management from Capella University, is one of JU’s most decorated military alumni, an award-winning author and a thought leader in philanthropy.

Though he completed the requirements for an associate’s degree from JU, he did not apply for it after leaving, and did not receive it. The degree is no longer offered at JU. On Saturday, he was awarded an honorary degree of Associate of Arts, along with an Honorary Doctorate in Leadership Excellence.

JU President Tim Cost

In his keynote, Dr. Connors drew from many of the online survey comments offered by Saturday’s JU graduates themselves.

“Your responses were impressively thoughtful, and in many cases, profound,” he said. “I was hoping to learn what you considered to be of major importance as you completed your studies, become proud Alumni and move forward with your lives and careers. It may be the first time in our school’s distinguished history that the members of a graduating class contributed to their own Commencement Address.”

Some of the Fall 2013 JU graduate comments Dr. Connors presented included:

  • “Always believe that you are capable of meeting your chosen goal. Surround yourself with positive people who will offer encouragement and support during the times that seem overwhelming,” said Mary LePiere, RN BSN.
  • “Just because the source has all the credentials to be telling you the truth, doesn’t mean it is the truth,” said Benjamin Hayes, Finance and Accounting, who added that his “A-ha” moment at JU was when he concluded “integrity will get you so much farther with a B than when you sacrifice it for an A.”
  • “It is never too late to chase after your dreams. Go do it now — or you’ll be working for someone one day — who did,” said ,” Abi Paraon , BSN (Nursing).
  • “Getting to know and befriending many of the faculty and staff, who surprisingly reciprocated” was the most valuable takeaway for Joshua Lambert, Sports Management. “I gained insight on various subjects from different perspectives, outside of the classroom setting – along with the occasional arguments about sports.”
  • “You must remain committed to your goals to be successful, regardless of what happens. The process of obtaining my MBA has not been easy, but I remembered my long-term goal,” said MBA graduate Jenna Aihie.

Dr. Connors concluded by marveling at how the campus of his younger days, with its open fields and dusty parking lots, had grown so vast, with so many new facilities and academic programs.

“As for your home at JU, when you return, what will it look like in the future?” he asked the graduates. “While many of the buildings on this most beautiful of campuses will look the same, its core values of excellence in learning will in fact be deeper. Its programs and resources will be even more relevant and customer-focused.

“You see, JU is going where you go. It will be there when and where you need something or someone from ‘home’ to help you advance your plans and make your dreams come true.”