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Flagler College Class of 2023 Commencement: Honoring achievement, resilience, and a promising future

May 9, 2023
by Anna Boone

Rows of friends and family quickly filled the Saint Augustine Ampitheater Saturday morning, May 6, and watched proudly as the Flagler College Class of 2023 made their way down the aisles- the conclusion of their undergraduate experience just minutes ahead of them.

More than 450 students crossed the stage at Saturday Commencement Ceremony. The class included graduates of the Master's Program in Deaf Education, seniors who finished degree credits in Fall of ‘22, and Spring of ‘23. For the first time in the College’s history, graduates of Flagler’s Public Administration Program also joined Commencement in place of a separate ceremony.  

Commencement 2023 Key of Seas

“Today, we gather at this graduation ceremony to celebrate the end of one grand journey and the beginning of another,” Rachel Cremona, Dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences, said. 

Cremona was honored as the faculty member to deliver the ceremony’s invocation speech which followed a performance of the National Anthem by Flagler’s Key of Seas choir group.  

“You – the students – are the heart of who we are,” Cremona said. 

Instead focusing on the academic achievement that their diplomas represent, Cremona extended her hope that students can reflect on the development of character Flagler College sets out to foster. 

“If you sit here today with more kindness towards others, a greater empathy for those around you, and a generous sense of giving towards others and yourself, then we have done our job well,” Cremona said. 

Commencement 2023 Cremona

She recognized traditions that may stand out among the graduating class’s favorite memories, but also encouraged them to cherish the memories that are closely linked to person they’ve become over the past four years.  

“We hope that you will remember Flagler- not simply for midnight breakfasts, Harry Potter and your excessive dependency on coffee,” Cremona said. “But also as the place where you first began to discover who you are, where you found your passion and immersed yourself in it, where you forged lifelong friendships and made priceless memories.” 

Following Cremona’s invocation, President John Delaney recognized the College’s Trustee members present- John Bailey, Jr., Angela Brav, Kathy Deagan, Mike Santarone, Mitch Walk (‘79), and Viv Helwig (‘06) and offered parting advice to the students. 

“I am firmly convinced that every diploma I bestow today is a passport to success and you are all well prepared to take that next step,” Delaney said. 

Commencement 2023 Delaney

He also encouraged graduates to value the relationships they’ve formed at Flagler as much as they value the immersive education they received.  

“You may not always remember what you learned in each class, but you will remember the people who shared this time with you,” Delaney said. “I encourage you to nourish these relationships as your experiences take you in different directions.” 

After his brief congratulatory remarks, Delaney recognized three faculty members who are set to retire at the close of the academic year: Kurt Sebastian, Michael Chester, and Jim Makowski who joined the College in 1989. 

Delaney also honored two students who were nominated for the awards by all faculty members. Presleigh Johnson received the senior President’s Award for Leadership and Matthew Dutton received the President’s Award for Service. 

Brianna Ruiz, selected by peers to deliver the senior speech, is from Deland, Florida. Ruiz completed a degree in International Studies and currently works with University of St. Augustine Health Sciences as an Enrollment Outreach Coordinator. 

Commencement 2023 Ruiz

Ruiz took the opportunity to remind her peers, and those in attendance, of interconnectedness that she believes is so important in how we navigate our lives. 

“I think the key here is that we are all interconnected,” Ruiz said. “Every decision we make, every breath we take, and every issue we ache, all means something.” 

Ruiz said this perspective she holds is hard for most to put into practice. 

“In an ever-changing world full of conflict and at the peak of a divide, I think this is a difficult concept for many of us to take in,” she said. 

But said it's a perspective she thinks should shape “what we do, how we act, and who we are matters.” 

President Delaney then returned to the podium to introduce the alumni speaker Jeffrey Garrison, Senior Content Producer at the PGA Tour and President of the Alumni Association. 

“Trust what you’ve learned and what you know,” Garrison said. 

He assured the graduating class that their journey as a member of the Flagler community doesn’t have to come to a close with their last semester. Garrison encouraged them to keep up their involvement and consider giving back to seek the same value he’s found as an active member of the alumni network.  

“Flagler places the same immense value on you now as alumni as it did when you were students,” Garrison said. “While you will be missed on campus, you will not be forgotten…Once a Saint, always a Saint.” 

Commencement 2023 Garrison

He acknowledged that many of students sitting in front of him would soon leave St. Augustine, but said he wants them to take time to reflect in their time here. 

“Look back on the near misses, the triumphs, the relationships and all the experiences that defined your time here,” Garrison said. “I challenge you to draw inspiration and purpose from those experiences as you go through your life.” 

Art Vanden Houten, Vice President of Academic Affairs, and Craig Woelfel, Dean of Academic Life, were then invited to call the graduates across the stage to receive their diplomas.  

Commencement 2023 Dutton

To close Commencement, Associate Professor of Humanities John Young recited a benediction, a formal blessing for ceremonies. To drive message, Young told the story of three historical figures: Dante Alighieri, Socrates, and Stephen Hawkings. 

“Show forth the integrity of a Socrates, the empathy and willingness to change of a Dante, and the grit and problem-solving of a Hawking,” Young said. 

He said the value of a Flagler College education prepared him to follow the example of these iconic figures. 

“These are but a handful of examples that demonstrate the value of education for confronting and overcoming challenges, even unprecedented ones,” Young said. “I invite you now to create your own story to add to them.”


Additional Commencement 2023 Photos.

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