Home » Topics » Academics » Sen. Aaron Bean ’89 to JU Spring 2017 graduates: wield your “superpowers,” dream bigger to do incredible things

Sen. Aaron Bean ’89 to JU Spring 2017 graduates: wield your “superpowers,” dream bigger to do incredible things

Quoting Nelson Mandela and Google CEO Eric Schmidt, and with references to Spider-Man, Drake, Clash of Clans, Star Wars, Adele and others, Florida Sen. Aaron Bean urged Jacksonville University graduates Saturday, April 29, to harness their “superpowers” to take on the world.

“We all have two superpowers that are distinct and more powerful than you can imagine. We just have to learn to master them and how to use them. Capes are optional,” Bean said in his keynote address at Spring commencement — which also featured the first-ever surprise wedding proposal in the event’s history.

(Find the full text of Sen. Bean’s remarks, and photo gallery, below.)

Taking action and uplifting others are powers that allow us to accomplish greatness in our lives, and sometimes just taking the first step is the hardest part, with the smallest obstacles often being the biggest hurdles standing in our way to reaching our potential, Bean told a crowd of nearly 10,000 massed on the Science Green, the largest ever for a Commencement ceremony at JU.

Quoting Mandela, the South African anti-apartheid icon, Bean said: “Our deepest fear is not that we are not strong. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?”

Sen. Aaron Bean delivers the keynote address at JU’s Spring 2017 Commencement.

“You do have the power,” Bean said. “And we all know the line from a movie about a young man with superpowers:  ‘With Great Power comes great responsibility.’ Go take action, persist and dream bigger – things you never thought possible, but with the powers God has given unto you, you can do incredible things.”

Bean, who earned a Bachelor of Science in Finance from Jacksonville University in 1989, received an honorary degree of Doctorate in Civic and Community Leadership Saturday for his dedication and service to his district and its residents. The celebration also featured the awarding of the first Master of Science degrees in Kinesiological Studies and in Health Informatics, and first Doctorate of Business Administration, in the University’s 83-year history.

Of the total 909 spring 2017 graduates, 258 received bachelor of nursing degrees; 135 received master of nursing degrees; 61 received master of business administration degrees; and 121 graduated with Latin honors, which are earned by students with a minimum GPA of 3.50 with 60 graded credits at JU. In addition, 15 students graduated with their bachelor’s degree and earned University Honors. A total of 96 active-duty military, student veterans, dependents and reservists graduated as well.

JU President Tim Cost praised the graduates, who gained their educations during an unprecedented era of growth and improvement at the University, calling them “very well-prepared” and urging them to “go out, move with optimism and purpose” and “ascend to your rightful place in the world.”

“You have excelled, and, even more than that, you leave your university having helped make it far better than the one you entered … a high compliment,” Cost said. “With new talent, new investment, new programs and — particularly this year — new landmark partnerships, JU is opening itself to all possibilities and is bringing excellence to the community and beyond. … It is a great time to be a Dolphin.”

Top JU highlights of just the past spring semester alone include:

  • The launch of “OCEARCH at Jacksonville University,” putting the University and its namesake city on the world stage for student-centric marine science learning in collaboration with OCEARCH, an internationally recognized research nonprofit that along with its charismatic founder Chris Fischer is dedicated to the study of keystone marine species like great white and tiger sharks.
  • Announcement of the newly established Keigwin School of Nursing, thanks to gifts including $3 million from Beverly and Jack Keigwin, the largest in the Nursing school’s 36-year history.
  • Becoming the Official Education Partner with robotics and STEM nonprofit Renaissance Jax to help lead the way in inspiring more Northeast Florida students to explore the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics fields
  • Collaboration with the JAXSPORTS Council to again serve as host for first and second round action of March Madness as it returns to Veterans Memorial Arena in 2019.
  • An unprecedented Charter Week of giving and celebration April 3-8, including “the most important, exhilarating and vibrant single day of community service in its history,” as Cost put it, as the diverse family of Jacksonville University put the surrounding Arlington area in its embrace as never before April 7. Hundreds of accepted and current students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends fanned out across the area and gave of themselves in dozens of Charter Day of Service (#JUgives) projects.
  • Carla Fry, Undergraduate Director of the Nathan M. Bisk Center for Online Learning and Director for the Keigwin School of Nursing’s RN-BSN Program at Jacksonville University, being awarded a prestigious 2017-18 Fulbright Scholarship to teach and conduct research at the University of Belize.
  • JU’s Varsity Shooting Team emerging as a national powerhouse, with 10 national event championships over seven seasons, several Olympic hopefuls, two individual National HOA Champions and too many Gold medals to list.
  • The University gaining official status as an Exchange Visitor sponsor, becoming one of just a handful of private colleges in Florida to receive the U.S. State Department designation.
  • The JU-CFA Institute Research Challenge team from the Davis College of Business topping the University of Florida (CFA ‘15 national co-champion team), Florida Atlantic University (CFA ’16 Florida champion team) and Lynn University at the CFA Institute Research Challenge-Florida final four competition, and moving on to represent JU nationally at the Americas Regional Final.
  • Becoming one of only two Aramark-served campuses out of dozens in the South to go fully polystyrene foam-free, and one of the first of Chick-fil-A’s hundreds of regional locations to convert completely to International Paper’s “ecotainer” packaging products.

(See more highlights of 2016-17 at the end of this story.)

During the proceedings, Senior Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Kristie Gover called graduating seniors Alex Seifert and Michelle Hanes to the platform in recognition of their leadership and service.

Seifert, of Annapolis, Md., an Aviation Management major, President of the American Association of Airport Executives and member of the baseball team, took the microphone to say a few words as Hanes, of Buffalo, N.Y., a double major in Accounting and Finance, member of multiple honor societies and a JU Diamond Girl tor the baseball team, looked on.

JU senior Alex Seifert proposes to classmate and senior Michelle Hanes at JU’s Spring 2017 Commencement. As President Cost announced to the crowd, “She said yes.”

Then Seifert turned to Hanes, already getting teary-eyed, to pop the big question on one knee:

“Throughout my four years here at JU, I’ve had many great experiences, from being on the baseball team, traveling to so many different places, and meeting so many great professors and great people, but there’s one person in particular who has made my years here at JU years that I’ll never forget, and that person is the girl standing right next to me, Michelle Hanes. Michelle, I love you more than anything in this world. I want nothing more than to be with you for the rest of my life. Will you make me the happiest man? Will you marry me?”

Seniors Alex Seifert and Michelle Hanes after Hanes accepted Seifert’s onstage wedding proposal at JU’s Spring 2017 Commencement.

After long embraces on stage and a standing ovation, Cost informed the crowd, to raucous cheers, “She said yes.”

At the commencement ceremony, Cost bestowed the degrees and presented the Fred B. Noble Gold Medal for Scholarship to the graduating students with the highest cumulative grade point average (4.0) in JU’s Class of 2017: Savannah Bates and Melissa Spaulding, both of Jacksonville.

The President’s Award for Outstanding Leadership-Undergraduate went to Hanna McMahon of Sarasota; the President’s Award for Outstanding Leadership-Graduate went to Florinda Mangani of Thurmont, Md.; and the University Award for Outstanding Service and Co-Curricular Involvement went to Sydney Fritz of Atlantic Beach.

Class of 2016 Presidential Award winner Ellis Harr, who led the Sigma Chi fraternity while on campus and who now works for Greenshades Software, founded by JU alumnus Matt Kane, welcomed the new graduates into the JU Alumni Association.

“What unites us is more than just a diploma or a closet full of green clothes. It’s a body of shared experiences,” he said. “It’s walking, sweating, through the valley late to class on a hot August morning … flipping through the channels bored on a Wednesday night and suddenly seeing a former professor’s face on Jeopardy … watching the sun set across the Dolphin Green as a pod of real dolphins salute you with their dorsal fins  … standing on the porch of the River House in the silence that follows a fireworks show on Homecoming Weekend and hearing someone start to quietly chant ‘JU … JU…’ and hearing it swell through the crowd, and feeling the pride that this is your home, this is the house that built you.”

Also Saturday, Dr. Nisse Goldberg, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Biology and Marine Science, was recognized as Professor of the Year.

The spring 2017 JU graduates hail from throughout the United States and 10 other countries. The University’s more than 32,000 alumni come from all 50 states and 101 countries.

About Jacksonville University

Jacksonville University works to prepare each of its more than 4,000 students for lifelong success in learning, achieving, leading and serving. Its 250-acre riverfront campus is just minutes from downtown Jacksonville and the Atlantic Ocean. The private university has been named one of “America’s Best Colleges” for 12 straight years, ranks in the top 13% of all U.S. colleges in average alumni salaries, and is in the top 1% among all Florida colleges for Return on Investment for its graduates. With a 12 to 1 student-faculty ratio and full-time faculty percentage of 80 percent, it offers small class sizes, inviting campus grounds and engaged faculty and staff in a setting that promotes community, ambition and responsibility. JU has more than 200 full-time faculty and offers more than 70 majors, programs and concentrations. It is home to the world-renowned OCEARCH ocean and shark research collaborative. Additionally, it offers graduate degrees in business, choreography, dentistry, education leadership, health informatics, kinesiological studies, leadership and learning, marine science, mathematics, mental health counseling, nursing, nursing informatics, organizational leadership, orthodontics, public policy, reading education, speech-language pathology, sport management and visual arts. JU is accredited by, among others, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), Aviation Accreditation Board International (AABI) and Council of Academic Programs in Communication Sciences and Disorders (CAPCSD) and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).



Florida Sen. Aaron Bean
April 29, 2017
as prepared for delivery

Thank you President Cost for the kind and warm welcome.  What an amazing honor.  The irony is I came to JU to become a doctor; I was pre-med for a semester but changed when I discovered I became faint at the sight of blood, which is definitely a drawback, so instead I went into politics.  (Pause)

President Cost, Chancellor Emerita Kinne , Chairman Tomm, General Fleming, Board of Trustees, members of the faculty, Dolphin family,  and most importantly, the class of 2017.

Congratulations on your notable achievement on joining the approximate 33% of our country’s population with a college degree.  On behalf of those who have always believed in you, please know how very proud your parents; family, friends and professors are of you and what you have accomplished.   Sure, there have been times when they may have thought you had better kick it up a gear and tighten up, but they always knew you could do it because you believed you could do it.

Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your celebration today.  JU is indeed a special place. I was right here in your seat receiving my JU degree on this very green 28 years ago.  During my time here, I met some of my future best friends; I met my future wife, the former Abby Bradley. Later this summer we will celebrate our 25th anniversary.   I, like many of you, learned almost as much outside the classroom as in, such as interacting with people and administration, leading student organizations and living away from home for the first time.   I learned about the importance of giving back by singing and volunteering at a retirement home, with then President Kinne herself playing the piano.

Part of my address today is show and tell.  A few years back my wife, who as you now know is my JU sweetheart, and I bricked a patio in our back yard and a few small triangular pieces of brick were leftover.  I ask that these be passed to the Class of 2017, and would like every graduate to hold one for a brief moment and pass it along so all could get a chance to do so.

We live in a time unparalleled. To put it in perspective, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt said that since the dawn of civilization up through the year 2003, all human history and information was recorded in 5 Exabytes of data.  On our Earth, we now create and record that much information every thirty nine hours.  Today alone, eighty five million pictures were uploaded on Instagram and millions more on Snapchat.   Most of you are in your early twenties and you have already lived in three different decades, two different centuries, and two different millennia.  You have seen the world change dramatically, just in your lifetime.

The Class of 2017 has lived through the meteoric rise and dramatic fall of Crocs. You have seen planking become the ice bucket challenge and then evolve into the running man challenge.  You all remember the television legend Hannah Montana…and you have all witnessed Hannah Montana change into something very very different. You have had happy meal toys, ripsticks, and shared those times when we all really thought the Jaguars were going to be good.   Your generation played with Legos, had a guitar hero phase, then rock band period, and then Clash of Clans.  Your parents listened to vinyl records and 8 tracks, then cassette tapes and then CDS, but many in your generation has not even seen a real record album, because downloading or streaming music to your phone is just what you do.  You have listened to Adele, Beyoncé, Drake, One Direction, Tim McGraw, Taylor and Justin.  Your mobile phones have mostly been smart, but the majority of you will never own a landline as an adult. While other generations are still in awe of this whole internet thing – it is all you have ever known.   Your parents went to the theatre to see Star Wars when it debuted in 1977, and you were in line at the theatre when it re-debuted two years ago in a brand new world.   Your parents grew up on Batman and Superman…but you watched Batman vs. Superman.   Know going forward that subtle and rapid changes, both good and bad happen every day.

Things move pretty fast in our world.  Welcome to it.

Very soon you will recognize, with just a little perspective, the great value of the time and effort you expended at JU. You are almost ready to take on the world, but first let me deliver your last lecture to move you over the top, for your next test, oh and yes there will be a test, will be life in the real world.  In the real world, lessons are repeated again and again until the concept is understood.

Your JU degree has given you great power, even super power.  When I was your age, I often dreamed of having super powers myself.  One of those powers I wanted was the ability to read people’s minds.  Then Facebook was invented and I got over that very quickly.   But I have discovered that I do indeed have superpowers.   As do you.   We all have two superpowers that are distinct and more powerful than you can imagine. We just have to learn to master them and how to use them.  Capes are optional.

Your first super power is action.  You can do anything. You can dream up a better mousetrap, or think up a new app.  You can think about starting a company, a new dress design or even running for office, but nothing happens until you take action.   Action is best defined as the difference between what you want and what you get.  At the University of Alabama, the last thing football players see before heading to the football field on game day is a sign saying, “cause something to happen”.   Action is the only thing that ever gets anything done, that is why it indeed is a super power.

Your second superpower is the ability to lift up others.  Could lifting someone up feed millions of the hungry, fight aids, poverty and win a Nobel peace prize?   Consider a nine-year-old boy walked with his mother in South Africa during the time of apartheid.   The boy and his mother were black, and racial tensions were very high at this time. As the boy and his mother were walking, they passed a white priest walking the other way. The priest looked at the boy and his mother – – and did something almost unthinkable at the time – the Priest took off his hat, the ultimate sign of respect.    The boy was so moved and inspired by that simple gesture, yet powerful act, that it changed him.  The young boy was so blown away by the priest’s actions, that he too decided that he would become a priest.   We know that boy today as the Bishop Desmond TuTu. Bishop TuTu has won countless awards including the Nobel Peace Prize.  He has built countless orphanages and fed and comforted millions through his works and deeds and leadership using his super power of action, but Bishop TuTu wrote in his memoirs that it was all due to a priest. A priest who used his super power to remove his hat, to lift him up.  All of you have that power.

One of the most powerful manmade forces on the planet – is a locomotive. A single engine can pull millions of pounds of freight.   A locomotive pulling over a mile of cars and going full power can rip through concrete up to 8 feet thick and take over 1.5 miles to stop. However, when that locomotive is at rest, when it is stationary, and I take my tiny little brick triangle that many of you have held and place it appropriately under its wheel.  It goes nowhere.  It cannot begin.  Always remember that sometimes starting is the hardest part, and sometimes it is the smallest thing that stands in our way.

I leave you with a quote that was a favorite of Nelson Mandela “Our deepest fear is not that we are not strong. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world.  We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

You do have the power!  And we all know the line from a movie about a young man with superpowers:

“With Great Power comes great responsibility.” Go take action, persist and dream bigger – things you never thought possible, but with the powers god has given unto you, you can do incredible things.  Graduates, May God bless you and may your light shine bright as you begin to climb the mountains and lift others and better our community, our state, our country and our world.  I look forward to seeing you along on the journey. Go Dolphins and go get ‘em class of 2017.



  • 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.
  • 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 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.