As Emily Yates carefully fixes her graduation cap moments before the Florida Polytechnic University commencement, she can’t help but think about the hard work, the long nights, and all of the sacrifice that brought her to this moment. “I can’t believe this day is here already,” said Yates, who received a bachelor’s degree in science and technology management with a concentration in logistics and supply chain management.
Yates described her four years at Florida Poly as full of challenges, lessons, and opportunities. It was an intense journey that she says was worth every minute, for the achievement of becoming the first female in her family with a STEM degree.
“I have a big family with six siblings and they all are here to cheer me on. They’re very proud,” said the Lakeland, Florida, native. “I’m excited to graduate, but it’s also bittersweet. I’m going to miss so many great professors and friends.”
Yates is one of nearly 300 Florida Polytechnic University students who graduated at the school’s spring commencement on May 5, at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland.
This was Florida Poly’s second four-year class graduation. The University was established in 2012 as the only state institution dedicated exclusively to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). Florida Poly’s focus is to graduate students who are lifetime employable and equipped to become the high-tech leaders of the future.
“You’ve proven that you can work hard, meet challenges and achieve success,” said Randy K. Avent, University president. “I know you won’t stop after this. I know you will continue to accomplish great things. And as you go out in the world, I hope you will carry your Florida Poly experience proudly with you.”
Retired U.S. Air Force general and former astronaut, Kevin P. Chilton, was the commencement speaker. He encouraged the graduates to never stop learning.
“Learning should be a lifelong journey. Today is not the day to close the book on your education,” said Chilton, who completed a 34-year military career and served as a NASA astronaut for 11 years. “Throughout my career I came to understand that most of my learning came through on the job training. I learned from my bosses, my colleagues, my mentors, and I even learned from my subordinates, perhaps some of the most valuable lessons of all.” The four-star general also advised the graduates to always have a goal, but also be open to different possibilities.
“Don’t be afraid to change your dreams along the way. If you think today you know exactly what you’re going to do with your degree, you may be wrong, or you may be right. It doesn’t matter. But don’t be afraid of change. Don’t be afraid to spread your wings and try something different,” Chilton added.
The ceremony also featured an address by student speaker Travis Hills, who received a bachelor’s degree in computer science with a concentration in cybersecurity. Hills was also president of the Student Government Association (SGA) and has accepted a position as an associate security systems analyst with Saddle Creek Logistics Services.
“We’ve done a fantastic job thus far, but now is not the time to stop pushing. Now is the time to push even harder, harder than we’ve ever pushed before,” said Hills, who is from Tampa, Florida.
“Whatever your path, position in life, or goals, remember to support and stay in contact with the friends you’ve made. Remember to work hard, treat others right, and treat yourself right.”