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Turn passions to reality, Mayor Alvin Brown urges Jacksonville University graduates

By Phillip Milano

Take action in the face of adversity. Go beyond the nurturing environment of college to turn passions into reality. Above all, stand tall to lead rather than follow.

Just a few of the nuggets of advice Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown offered more than 800 graduates Saturday, May 5, as he delivered the keynote address at Jacksonville University’s 2012 Spring Commencement and accepted an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters.

Mayor Alvin Brown delivers keynote to Jacksonville University graduates May 5, 2012.

“Martin Luther King Jr. once said, ‘A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus,’ ” Brown told the graduates. “Getting here today means that each of us stood tall over obstacles. The question is, How can we make sure that today is just the beginning of something even greater? We owe it to ourselves. We owe it to proud parents and proud educators who got us this far. We owe it to those who are hopeless, voiceless and invisible. And we owe it to Jacksonville University.” 

The university bestowed degrees on more than 800 students, including the first graduates of its much-lauded two-year-old master’s program in dance choreography. Graduates hailed from 41 states plus Washington, D.C., and the Virgin Islands, as well as nine foreign countries. The most popular bachelor majors this year were nursing, with 279 graduates, followed by social science, 40, and management, 27, according to the JU Registrar’s Office.

The President’s Award for Outstanding Leadership went to political science and economic major Fidele Ishimwe, originally of Rwanda, who co-founded Hatua International, a non-profit that focuses on bringing immediate relief to the malnourished and starving. 

The University Award for Outstanding Service was given to Ashley Lauren Kohler, who served as a Big Dolphin mentor, orientation education program coordinator for Student Life and volunteer at St. Francis Soup Kitchen, and is captain of JU’s Sporting Clays, Skeet and Trap Club. 

The Noble Award for highest GPA, given on behalf of the late Fred B. Noble, who earned a JU bachelor’s degree at age 91, went to students William Joseph Luce of Riverside, Calif.; Reynold Chia Ly of Orange Park; Johnna L. Sands of Ohio; and Kaysley Fussell Thornton of Yulee. 

Brown, a JU ’85 and ’89 alum who took office July 1, 2011, looked back fondly to 27 years ago, when he sat at a similar ceremony at JU with “the whole world in front of me.” 

“When others walk, remember that JU taught us to run. The world needs leaders – visionary leaders who make things happen,” he said. “There are no facts or arguments that can knock down a dream. Only you can knock down that dream. Continue to look deep. Deep within yourself. Find your passion to develop your purpose and expose your true power to go out and achieve. 

“And remember: You must never surrender your hopes, dreams and aspirations. Never, never, never let up.” 

Brown also noted how much it meant to him to receive his honorary degree, conferred by JU President Kerry Romesburg and Trustee Lawrence Kurzius, putting him in the company of such notables as Malcolm Forbes Jr., Ross Perot and President Gerald Ford. 

“I don’t take it lightly that this honorary doctorate places me on a list of highly accomplished individuals who each have helped to define not just this university, but our city and our nation,” he said. 

Brown earned a Bachelor of Science in philosophy and an Executive MBA from JU. He also completed postgraduate work at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. In 2011, Brown received JU’s Distinguished Alumnus Award.