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Celebration of achievement

Students celebrate the beginning of a new chapter in their lives.

As she watched her commencement ceremony from the floor of the University of Miami’s BankUnited Center, it never occurred to Aileen Carroll that a world-famous entertainer like Gloria Estefan experienced the same anxieties and fears that she did upon her college graduation.

“I thought, ‘Here’s a multiple Grammy Award winner, someone who’s performed in front of audiences all over the world. But when she graduated from college, she was exactly like me,” said Carroll, 23, who along with about 800 other students received degrees at UM’s fall commencement ceremony on December 16.

Carroll was referring to the advice that Estefan, a 1978 UM graduate, delivered to students at the ceremony.

“I was at a crossroads,” said Estefan, telling the students that she was faced with the uncertainty of having to make a difficult choice—whether to enroll in graduate school for clinical psychology, study international law in Paris, which would have meant leaving her mother and sister to care for an ailing father and leaving the man with whom she was falling in love.

“I imagine that many of you here today are facing that very same fork in the road, that crossroad that, depending on what decision you make, may change or affect the rest of your life,” she said.

Estefan, who exploded onto the pop scene in 1985 as the dynamic front woman of the groundbreaking Miami Sound Machine, told students that she ultimately decided to “choose with my heart, not just with my head.”

Gloria Estefan, left, joins UM President Donna E. Shalala in singing the school’s alma mater.

“That gut feeling is one of the most useful tools that we experience,” explained Estefan, a UM trustee who also received an honorary degree from UM in 1993. “It’s important to listen to it…Each of you has an amazing opportunity to affect the world with your actions and decisions.”

UM President Donna E. Shalala also had a message for the graduates. “I hope your experience here has awakened and nurtured your passion, your hopes, your values, and your sense of responsibility for the world that we live in,” she said.

For Carroll and her graduating classmates, Estefan’s and President Shalala’s encouragement couldn’t have come at a better time. An ailing economy and job market that still have not fully recovered have some graduates concerned about their futures. Carroll, who received her degree in communications and psychology at Thursday’s graduation exercise, is still interning at a Hollywood, Florida, public relations firms, but she’s hoping to land an entry-level position in Los Angeles or New York soon.

As she walked to her car with her grandparents after commencement, Carroll was confident her prospects would be bright. “I’ll worry about that later,” she said. “We’re off to celebrate for now.”

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