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    3,720 USF grads celebrate commencement success

    The spring ceremony included students from age 19 to one in her 70s who are from 33 states and 77 countries.

    By LOGAN D. MABE, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published May 5, 2002

    TAMPA -- The University of South Florida Sun Dome fills up twice a year with the thousands who survived, and thousands more who cheer their success.

    The names of the graduates and their families filling the stands change, but the one constant is the shared sense of accomplishment that is as real as the stogie Zonald Spinks gnawed on while waiting his turn for a diploma.

    "It's just a family tradition to get your picture taken with the president with a cigar," said Spinks, a music performance major bound for law school. "That's why I have to wear the pink tassel (signifying his degree). It takes a secure man to wear a pink tassel. That's why I've got the cigar."

    Spinks, 25, was one of USF's 3,720 graduates celebrating the 2002 spring commencement Saturday. The class included students from 33 states and 77 countries. The youngest graduate was 19-year-old Amanda Jordan. The eldest, Ellen Fox, was six decades older.

    "As this diversity indicates, the University of South Florida has brought together the best minds in America and the world," said USF president Judy Genshaft in her speech to the graduates.

    The world was a different place when this class of 2002 began the long trek toward a college degree, Genshaft said.

    "The events of the last nine months have imbued in us a new sense of responsibility," Genshaft said. "It is times like these when our universities are most important."

    Saturday's celebration focused more on students' future than past.

    "It's an accomplishment," said 24-year-old chemistry graduate Kerri-ann Prescod, whose family came here from Jamaica. "There were a lot of trials, but it's like a dream come true. I'm the first in my family to graduate college."

    Alexis Geller, 22, wore a message reading, "4 U DAD" on her mortarboard. "My dad died last year, and I know he's definitely up there watching," said Geller, who plans to use her psychology degree as a social worker.

    Matt Elliott, 22, stood out in his Marine Corps dress blue uniform and saber. Elliott, a second lieutenant who studied philosophy, said it felt more special to wear the uniform to graduation.

    "With my chosen profession, it has given me more of a sense of urgency," Elliott said. "You knew about it before you signed up, but 9-11 just gelled it for me. I've sworn to protect my nation and I know what I'm here to do."

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