By: Jan Engoren Contributing Writer
More than 7,000 graduates, friends, families, and university faculty and staff attended Lynn University’s 2019 commencement ceremonies on Sat., May 11 at the Palm Beach Convention Center in downtown West Palm Beach.
The university awarded over 900 associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees – an increase of nearly 50 percent in the last decade.
President Kevin M. Ross gave the 54th commencement speech to the class of 2019.
“It’s a day we’ve looked forward to for so long,” he said. “It’s the University’s favorite day, along with the day you arrived.”
He noted that this is the largest graduating class in over 10 years, thanks to a steady increase in enrollment and graduation rates.
“We’re proud of your accomplishments,” Ross said. “Many of you have overcome challenges and worked hard to persevere and succeed.”
He highlighted many of Lynn’s accomplishments including being named as one of the country’s “Most Innovative Schools,” in 2016 by U.S. News and World Report and the completion of the Christine E. Lynn Center, part of the school’s master plan.
“You’ve all entered with so much potential,” he said. “We’re excited for the endless opportunities that lie ahead.”
Commencement speeches were given by graduating senior Shawn Johnson, 20, member of the President’s Honor Society, Alexandra Rafferty-Flugel, 45, graduating with her MS in Communications and Media and best-selling author and literacy advocate, James Patterson.
Graduating with a BA in Multimedia Journalism, Johnson, an Alabama native, was part of the school’s 3.0 accelerated program and earned his degree in three years.
Before coming to Lynn, Johnson says he was home-schooled and feels empowered by the environment at Lynn where students receive personalized attention.
A sports enthusiast (he loves the Alabama Crimson Tide), Johnson hopes to combine his passion for sports with his communication skills, along the lines of former ESPN sports anchor and Lynn alum, Lisa Kerney.
As the editor-in-chief of the student-run news organization iPulse, Johnson says he’s had great opportunities to meet many celebrities passing through campus including Dan Lothian, former CNN White House correspondent, Steve Tisch owner of the New York Giants and Ruth Carter, who recently won the Oscar for her costume designs on the film Black Panther.
In entering the workforce for the first time, Johnson says finding a job is foremost on his mind.
Backpacking through Europe seems to have gone the way of rotary phones. Students today will barely take a breath before school ends and their work-life begins.
“I know it’s summer,” says Johnson, “but I have to stay on top of the game. There’s no down time; I have to keep going.”
Johnson already has gained some work experience through internships, including one with the Mizner Park Comedy Club and another with the Wick Theater.
He believes that connections he has made through Lynn will open doors for him. “As a student, everyone wants to help you,” he said.
Fortunately, Johnson is one of the few students to graduate without significant debt thanks to scholarships he’s received, including one through the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.
How does he feel to be graduating? “It’s a great time; it’s nerve-wracking to be in that large a group at the convention center,” he said, “but it’s an incredible experience.”
On the other hand, returning student Rafferty-Flugel graduates from her master’s program with 20 years experience in the PR, film and television industries.
She is a director/producer for Inside Edition and America’s Most Wanted with John Walsh. She earned an Emmy nomination in her work with the Children’s Museum of Boca Raton.
Rafferty-Flugel, who emigrated from Venezuela as a child, started at Lynn in the ESL program and in the future plans to return there as part of the faculty.
“Lynn holds a special place in my heart,” she said and encouraged students to accomplish their goals regardless of obstacles.
“This graduation ceremony is for all of us,” she said. “Never allow anyone to change your path to success.”
Also encouraging students to make a difference and to ‘do the right thing’ was best-selling author James Patterson, who opened his speech joking, “Hello, I’m Stephen King.”
He noted the temptation these days to take shortcuts and urged students more than once to ‘do the right thing.’
After a fan told him his Alex Cross mystery novel was the first book she ever read, Patterson said, “The way I felt that day, is the way you should feel performing your job.”
He spoke about his passion for writing, literacy and storytelling, recounting being spellbound by a storyteller in Marrakesh dressed in indigo and saffron robes, even without understanding a word of Arabic.
He equated reading to a longer and more prosperous life.
“The more you read, the more you want to read and the better educated you become,” Patterson said. “The better educated you become, the better job you can get, and the better job you get, the more money you can earn and the healthier and longer life you live.”
He spoke about juggling the five balls of life – work, family, friends, health and spirituality.
“Work is a rubber ball,” he said. “It will bounce back after dropped. The other four are glass, and will be damaged or shattered when dropped.”
“Once you understand that, you, will strive for more balance in your life,” Patterson said.
He referenced an earlier period in his life in New York City when his girlfriend was diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 32.
They had to learn to live one day at a time
“This point of view made each day precious,” Patterson said. “We lived our lives accordingly.”
“Try to live that way,” he advised the students.
He quoted his grandfather, who drove a delivery truck in New York.
“When you grow up, when you go over the mountain to work in the morning, you got to be singing,” he remembers his grandfather saying.
Patterson is currently working on developing a literacy program for children in Florida, where only 43 percent of kids read at grade level, and which he says is the most important work he’s ever done.
Exhorting students again to ‘do the right thing,’ he recounted an anecdote about humpback whales which were trapped in fishing lines.
A rescue team spent a number of days trying to untangle the lines and free the whales.
When finally set free, the whales did not immediately swim out to sea, but came over to each diver one at a time and nudged them individually as a way of giving thanks.
“That high is how you feel when you do the right thing,” said Patterson, again urging students: “Do the right thing.”