U.S. Rep. Brian Mast and Joe Grogan, assistant to the president of the United States, stressed the importance of endurance to nearly 600 graduates whose final semester was impacted by COVID-19.
The University saluted 583 undergraduate and graduate students during two virtual ceremonies Saturday. Mast and Grogan served as the commencement speakers. Dr. Frank M. Yamada, executive director of the Association of Theological Schools, gave the invocation.
“You have done it,” Yamada told graduates. “You have run the race, and you have run it well.”
Retiring President William M. B. Fleming, Jr. welcomed graduates to the ranks of more than 18,000 alumni.
“Each of you has an extraordinary life story,” Fleming said. “You are rich in talent, strong in faith, determined to serve, yearning to accomplish your dreams and awaiting diverse opportunities. I pray that your eyes would lead you onward and upward.”
Grogan, director of the Domestic Policy Council and one of the original members of the White House coronavirus task force, shared openly about his early struggles to build a career. He was unsuccessful as a real estate lawyer, and he was rejected from plenty of positions in his 20s.
“By drawing on your school’s core values of accountability, integrity, excellence, unity, love and respect, you will get through this together,” Grogan said. “Those core values are an absolute must for a successful career.”
Grogan adapted and learned from his failures, he said. Prior to his current role, he worked as a top health care official in the Office of Management and Budget, overseeing more than $1 trillion in federal spending.
He left with these words of advice to graduates: “Never, ever lose faith in God or yourself.”
Mast began his academic career at PBA. He ultimately earned his degree from Harvard after his military service. He served in the U.S. Army for more than 12 years, earning honors including the Bronze Star, the Army Commendation Medal for Valor, the Purple Heart Medal and the Defense Meritorious Service Medal.
While deployed in Afghanistan, he worked as a bomb disposal expert under the elite Joint Special Operations Command. The last improvised explosive device that he found resulted in the loss of both of his legs. After his retirement, he continued working in counterterrorism. He now represents the 18th Congressional District of Florida.
He urged graduates not to rest even when they’re exhausted.
“Only stop and rest when the mission is accomplished,” Mast said.
He also encouraged graduates to do everything with a smile, just as he and his colleagues despite often harrowing circumstances.
He challenged graduates to have the courage to take on challenges, even though they might fail, and to have the determination and fortitude to finish what they start. Regardless of whether continuing schooling, entering the trades, playing sports, teaching, saving lives or starting a business, “don’t let anyone or anything limit how exceptional you are,” Mast told the graduates.
“You earned today. You earned this moment,” Mast said. “Now go out and earn the next.”
Photo 1: Dr. Frank M. Yamada, executive director of the Association of Theological Schools, gave the invocation.
Photo 2: Joe Grogan, assistant to the president of the United States, was a commencement speaker. He spoke about his failures on the way to success.
Photo 3: U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, a decorated Army veteran, encouraged graduates not to rest until the mission is accomplished.