UF graduations conclude Sunday


Joseph Glover, the UF provost, welcomes the graduates to the Saturday afternoon University of Florida 2013 Spring Commencement Ceremony for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences held at the O'Connell Center in Gainesville Saturday, May 4, 2013.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Saturday, May 4, 2013 at 7:47 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, May 4, 2013 at 7:47 p.m.

Most University of Florida students who weren’t graduating this weekend probably left town shortly after their last exam — or post-exam party — but some students stuck around to see friends graduate — or in the case of Michael Keen, to see his wife, Savanna, graduate.

Both Michael and Savanna are religion majors, and she’s one year ahead of him. Keen stood with frat brother Edward Avery, a UF mechanical engineering freshman, and Avery’s girlfriend, an elementary education freshman, as they all took in a moment of glory that would one day be theirs.

“I’m looking forward to being on that stage someday,” Avery said.

Keen said he and his wife took a couple of classes on Islam together and have talked a lot about their classes. Both Christians, Keen said he hopes to become a pastor, while Savanna, who got a minor in teaching, will teach chemistry at a local high school next year.

“She loves teaching. I’m proud that she made it through,” Keen said.

Pride seemed to be the primary emotion inside the O’Connell Center on Saturday, at the second of four ceremonies — this for graduating students in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. A flower vendor sold bouquets of a dozen and half a dozen red roses, along with orchid leys that some graduates wore over their gown as they walked across the stage.

In all, 3,276 students in the college applied to receive undergraduate degrees this weekend; 9,000 students total applied to graduate this spring, including doctoral, master’s and professional degree students as well as the degree candidates in the university’s various other colleges.

The final graduation ceremony takes place this afternoon, for students in the colleges of fine arts, health and human performance and journalism and communications.

That’s where married couple Ian and Patrice Fletcher will be, side by side, as they file across the stage, one right after the other — Ian, with a degree from the journalism school, and Patrice from the school of health and human performance.

The couple met as UF sophomores — back in 1989. Different challenges forced each to drop out of school for many years, but they stayed together and got back on track together, too.

Still, neither expected the happy coincidence of sharing graduation day.

“I am ecstatic,” said Ian, 44. He added, “It feels really good because when I struggled, I convinced myself that college wasn’t for me.”

After Fletcher discovered freshman year that he had a “bad case of test anxiety,” he stumbled through another year of failed exams and frustration before dropping out and getting a job bagging groceries at Winn Dixie.

He quickly rose to a managerial position there, and realized that he had enough determination to go back to school. He had also discovered a talent and passion for work in broadcast, after volunteering at ESPN for four years.

“I realized, after being a radio DJ, that I knew nothing about TV,” Fletcher said. “I made a decision to give school a second chance.”

Readmitted in 2007 to UF’s “Fresh Start” program, Fletcher went to school part-time and continued to work — as an employee service representative at Florida Works. He is also vice president of Workforce Development with the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce.

When Fletcher thinks back to the last exam he took before dropping out of UF over 20 years ago, he realizes how far he has come. Back then, he looked at the first question on a statistics exam and his mind went blank, he said.

“I went to the dean and said, ‘I can’t do this.’ ”

That was after Fletcher had consulted a UF counselor about his problem, who suggested that Fletcher write his notes as song lyrics since Fletcher learned song lyrics quickly — advice Fletcher didn’t follow.

This time around, Fletcher said he relaxed as he handed in his last exam in television programming, a subject he intends to use as he pursues work in television production.

Patrice, too, faced obstacles during her previous college career: Two semesters shy of a nursing degree, she left school and became an assistant manager at a local retail store. She also bore two children — one of whom was born with a rare genetic condition called spinal muscular dystrophy.

When Patrice, now 43, went back to school in 2010, she switched her degree to recreation and parks tourism with a concentration in event management. She thought it would be useful because the Fletchers intend to start a foundation dedicated to medical research on their son’s condition, to be called Joshua Joelle SMA Life, named after her son.

She said her son’s disease inspired her studies and kept her focused.

“I never thought that I would go back to school,” she said. “I didn’t think I would do well because of all the new technology and being with a lot of younger kids.”

“It means a lot to me,” she said of graduating today.

Contact Kristine Crane at 338-3119, or kristine.crane@gvillesun.com.

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