Tag Archive | "commencement"

Lawyer and Alumnus H.T. Smith Inspires Graduates to Achieve the Impossible


Lawyer and Alumnus H.T. Smith Inspires Graduates to Achieve the Impossible

By Robert C. Jones Jr.
UM News

UM trustee and Miami Law alumnus H.T. Smith delivers the fall commencement address.

UM trustee and Miami Law alumnus H.T. Smith delivers the fall commencement address.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (December 17, 2005) – Inspired by the words of the great Nelson Mandela, who called education a powerful weapon that can change the world, H.T. Smith returned home from the jungles of Vietnam in 1970 with a dream of enrolling in the University of Miami’s law school and becoming a lawyer who would defend the rights of the weak and the marginalized.

But Smith faced two major obstacles—classes would be starting in just two weeks, and he hadn’t even taken the Law School Admission Test. Without LSAT scores, getting admitted to law school would be “impossible,” Smith’s family and friends told him.

Refusing to accept the finality of that word, Smith, who grew up in Miami’s impoverished Overtown neighborhood and was accustomed to overcoming challenges, drove to the UM campus, and, without an appointment, asked to meet with the law school’s dean, to whom he delivered this message:

“Dean, I just spent 400 days fighting for my country in the jungles of Vietnam. They did not give the LSAT where patriots were fighting and dying. They gave the LSAT over here, to a lot of folks who were dodging the draft, and that isn’t fair. So I’m just telling you straight up: I’m going to be in law school this semester, in the first class, in the first row, in the first seat. That is what I gotta do, and you just have to do what you gotta do.”

Impressed, the dean worked out an arrangement. He would admit Smith under one condition—that he pass the LSAT the next time the test was given.

“You see, I know that impossible means it just has not happened yet,” Smith, one of Miami’s most distinguished lawyers and civic leaders, told more than 900 graduates at UM’s fall commencement ceremony, held Thursday at the BankUnited Center. “So when someone tells you that reaching your dream is impossible, just smile and say to yourself, ‘I can show you better than I can tell you. It’s not impossible. It just hasn’t happened yet.’”

Presiding over his first UM commencement ceremony, President Julio Frenk noted that 59 percent of UM students identify as members of a minority group. “You represent the fulfillment of our founders’ dream of a Pan American university,” he said.

The physician and former Harvard dean, whose inauguration ceremony will take place January 29, also touted the University’s diversity and said he is dedicated to making the institution a “model of an inclusive community.”

Smith’s message about nothing being impossible was one of three themes the UM trustee, Miami Law alumnus, and founder of H.T. Smith, P.A., shared with graduates.

“It doesn’t matter where you start, you can reach your dream,” Smith said, using his own life as an example of achieving success against seemingly insurmountable odds.

“I was born in a shotgun shack on the rough side of the railroad track in the toughest neighborhood in Miami, Overtown,” he said. “I grew up on a street called “Bucket of Blood” and it earned that nickname. My grandmother was a maid for 52 years, scrubbing floors and raising other people’s children. My mother was a beautician, and my father was a mailman. I had a sister and two brothers…and me and my brothers had to fight—going to school and on the way back home. That was part of the way we had to live to survive.”

The first African American to serve as a Miami-Dade County assistant public defender and assistant county attorney, Smith told graduates he attended “staunchly segregated, second-class schools, with second-class equipment, second-class facilities, and second-class money”—a status thrust upon him “solely because I was black, because my skin had been kissed by nature’s sun.

“Today, I came to share with you that I was able to go from then and there and that to here and now and this,” continued Smith, assuring graduates that they could, without a doubt, achieve their goals.

“At this great University, you have learned not only how to think, but what to think about,” said Smith. “You have learned that diversity is not just about inclusion—it’s about a feeling of belonging. You have learned that your dream, of course, is about your destination…But understand that nobody hands you a dream. To get there is the journey, and on your journey it will take 25 percent inspiration and 75 perspiration.”

Smith urged graduates to do something great, starting with being a great son or daughter, mother or father, sister or brother. Only negative emotions, such as envy, jealousy, revenge, and arrogance, can prevent them from achieving greatness, he said.

“So, reach for the stars, with the U as your launching pad and the knowledge you received here as your rocket fuel.”

His words resonated with Adriana Gonzalez, a program coordinator for the Executive Education Program at UM’s School of Business Administration, who received her Bachelor of General Studies during the ceremony. “It’s been a long and tough road, working full time and taking classes,” she said. “But it’s a fulfilling experience getting my degree, and it’s only the first step in my dream of getting my M.B.A.”



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Register by December 10 to Volunteer for Fall Commencement and President Frenk’s Inauguration

The Office of Events Management is seeking volunteers for the Fall 2015 Commencement Ceremony on Thursday, December 17,  and for President Julio Frenk’s inauguration on Friday, January 29.

To help make President Frenk’s first commencement ceremony and his 2016 inauguration memorable and fitting celebrations, view the volunteer jobs available for UM staff at both events via this link, seek pre-approval from your supervisor to volunteer, and sign up by Thursday, December 10.

As a special benefit for inauguration, volunteers who work both the  Fall 2015 Commencement Ceremony and the 2016 Inauguration will receive one administrative-commencement day off.

For more information, contact Events Management at 305-284-3213 or [email protected].



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Jimmy Buffett Urges Students to Let Passion Be Their Rudder


Jimmy Buffett Urges Students to Let Passion Be Their Rudder


By Robert C. Jones Jr.
UM News


Singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett left students with a four-point checklist.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (May 8, 2015) — When Jimmy Buffett received a letter from University of Miami President Donna E. Shalala inviting him to be one of UM’s spring commencement speakers, the famed singer-songwriter asked himself what he could possibly have to say to graduates.

“It’s not in my nature to do speeches,” Buffett said Friday at UM’s midday commencement, where the Grammy-nominated artist, best known for his music that portrays an “island escapism” lifestyle, received an honorary doctor of music degree.

But then one day, as Buffett traveled through Key West listening to Radio Margaritaville on his way to a rehearsal, singer Alan Jackson’s voice gave him the answer he was looking for: “What would Jimmy Buffett do?” Jackson asks in the song “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere.”

As Buffett drove down Duval Street, he answered back, “I’ll make them a checklist.”

So on Friday, Buffett, decked out in sandals given to him by his daughter and wearing commencement regalia he described as “kind of a like a Mardi Gras costume with a purpose,” delivered his four-point checklist to students in the storytelling style for which he is famous.

The ceremony honored graduates from the School of Architecture, School of Communication, School of Education and Human Development, School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, Frost School of Music, and School of Nursing and Health Studies.

“All things in moderation,” Buffett said. “The road to success is a long winding road littered with the wreckage of promising careers that have crashed and burned. In my early days I was riding that magic bus and making up for lost time, having spent the majority of my teenage years in strict parochial schools in Mobile, Alabama. That ride lasted until the time I hit 40. I was still feeling pretty bulletproof, but I noticed that hangovers were starting to feel like surgical recovery.”

The first such hangover Buffett experienced occurred at a show outside Denver, when he drank too much the night before. Somehow, he made it through the performance, but he was angry at himself for not giving the audience their money’s worth.

“Nobody in the crowd knew, but I sure did,” Buffett said. “It’s not a pretty thing to see talent wasted; it’s an even sadder thing to waste it yourself.”

So Buffett reorganized his priorities and reminded himself how lucky he was to call what he does for a living a job. “It took a little while, but I got my act together and sailed out of those troubled waters,” he said.

With graduates listening on, Buffett, who has recorded hit songs such as “Margaritaville” and “Come Monday,” gave them his second piece of advice: “If you can make your avocation your vocation, your life will be blissful.” He stressed to the students that there are four things they need to be successful in any endeavor—talent, love, work ethic, and passion, the last of which he said is the most important. “There are no shortcuts to success, but to me passion is the rudder that steers your quest for success,” Buffett said.

Buffett next urged students to “see the world.”

“We can’t keep time from melting off the clock, so all I can say is use your time well.” He told students that in May of 1969, when he graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi, his “future was just as elusive” as theirs. He was broke, had to pay $300 in parking fines just to get his degree, and his draft lottery number was 8.

But one thing he always knew was that stories told by his grandfather, a ship captain, ignited his curiosity for the world. “We now live on a very active big, round ball. The planet’s never been more connected. That is the world into which you’re going…You now have a degree. It’s not going anywhere. Hang it on a wall and do some traveling.”

And lastly, he told them to “be Santa Claus when you can,” reminding them of how fortunate they are to have graduated from UM.

During the ceremony, it was as if Buffett converted students to his devoted fan base known as “Parrotheads.” He regaled them with stories, such as how South Florida has been on his song list ever since his mother brought him and his sisters to the area from south Alabama. He saw Flipper perform at the Miami Seaquarium, and dreamed of becoming a dolphin trainer, and he wanted to major in marine biology at UM and become a “Jacques Cousteau with a Southern accent.”

“But that didn’t work out,” Buffett said.

The closest he ever got to becoming a Miami Hurricane, he said, was the time he performed in the winter of 1971 at an establishment that would eventually become the Titanic eatery on Ponce de Leon Boulevard often frequented by students.

“I started out as a bar singer in Coral Gables, and now I’ve got a doctorate degree,” Buffett joked. “You have to love that kind of evolutionary process.”

Buffett’s advice resonated with deep meaning for Lauren Washington, who earned a bachelor’s degree in the School of Nursing’s accelerated B.S.N. program. Two years ago, she felt she was stuck in a dead-end job as an accountant and realized she needed a new career more compatible with her values and beliefs in the importance of caring for others.

“Today is a testament to my faith, hard work, and dedication,” said Washington.

But it would not have happened if it weren’t for her mother, a longtime nurse Washington would often shadow during clinical rounds at Jackson Memorial and South Miami hospitals. “I saw the admiration people had for her, and I saw her leadership,” said Washington, a single mother. “With this degree, I know I’m going places.”

Two other commencement exercises were held Friday, before and after Buffett’s appearance. At the largest of the day, when 815 students from the College of Arts and Sciences and the Division of Continuing and International Education crossed the stage, speaker Ana Mari Cauce, the Cuban-born interim president of the University of Washington, who received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, was “incredibly humbled” to be back in the city where she grew up and the university from which she earned her undergraduate degree in English and psychology in 1977. “I’m really lucky that I applied about 40 years ago, because I am not sure I’d get in today,” she joked.

Quoting the journalist, scholar, and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois, “the mentor of my mentor,” the clinical psychologist urged students to think beyond “making a living” and concentrate “on earning a life.” Drawing a distinction between fleeting pleasure and true happiness, she said the latter comes not from such things as a new car, but from “cherished experiences with people you care about” and being “dedicated to a course greater than oneself.’’

“It is not all about sunshine and butterflies and often includes sacrifices and some moments of deep sorrow and pain,” she said. “As research shows, it is experiences, especially those that are shared with people who are important to us, that build sustained happiness–as when Humphrey Bogart says to Ingmar Bergman in Casablanca, ‘We’ll always have Paris.’’’

In the final undergraduate ceremony on Friday, another distinguished alumnus, UM Trustee Carlos M. de la Cruz, Sr., shared some very modern-day advice  from his decades of acquiring and operating very successful businesses. He told students graduating from the School of Business Administration and College of Engineering that in the age of the Internet, where “facts” are easily published but not easily verified, they must rely on their deductive reasoning as much as their scientific training.

“What does this mean?  It means that you must temper scientific recommendations with what you learned in your liberal arts courses,” de la Cruz said. “As Aristotle said, ‘It is the mark of an educated man to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it’…Candidly, in deciding whether to invest in companies, complicated equipment, and consumer brands, I use a two-step process: look at the numbers first and then critically question whether they make sense.”

For complete coverage, view the  Special Report: Commencement 2015.


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UM’s Newest ’Canes Urged to ‘Tackle Big Problems’


UM’s Newest ’Canes Urged to ‘Tackle Big Problems’

By Robert C. Jones Jr.
UM News

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (December 18, 2014) – With final exams now over, the last research papers written, and master’s and doctoral theses already vigorously defended, graduates at the University of Miami’s 2014 fall commencement were issued a daunting challenge Thursday before their college degrees were even conferred: “Help us build and grow a society that is willing to tackle big problems,” Chuck Todd, political director of NBC News and the moderator of the network’s flagship Meet the Press Sunday morning public affairs program, told them.

“You’ve lived through two decades of political paralysis, so this is your challenge—lead us out of this mess,” said Todd.

A self-described political junkie who has earned a reputation as one of the most passionate journalists and sharpest analysts in American media, Todd told graduates that Gen Xers and Baby Boomers had failed them, noting the two wars, financial crisis, and rapid polarization they have witnessed in their lifetime.

“We have left a mess, a real leadership void,” he said. “The greatest strides we’ve made have been in the world of technology. Then again, what have we done with this technology? We didn’t cure cancer.” Social media, which was supposed to bring people closer together, he said, has been used “to help segregate us as a society. … These new social networks, while prolific, have become monolithic. And it’s really had a negative impact on society, especially on our politics. Somehow, despite the access we have to everyone around the world, we’ve allowed ourselves to become more isolated.”

Todd, who was named an Honorary Alumnus at the ceremony, urged UM’s newest ’Canes to realize how much the country needs “you to get us past this division and selfish behavior,” referring to the well-publicized rifts between Democrats and Republicans.

His sage advice to the students: love what you do for a living, always remember that the little things matter, find a way to say “yes,” take risks early in life, and never take family for granted.

A Miami native who turned down a music scholarship to attend UM because his mother wanted him to experience life outside his hometown, Todd reminded students that he still has passion and love for the U. He noted that some of his life’s most memorable moments occurred on the UM campus—from his first French horn solo at Gusman Concert Hall to his first Little League base hit at Mark Light Stadium.

UM, he said, is just as important to his upbringing as his education at George Washington University, where he attended college. “I always say when you go to the University of Miami, it looks like America in the 21st century,” he said.

Two honorary degrees were conferred at the ceremony. Husband and wife economists Alice Rivlin, a senior fellow in the Economic Studies Program at Brookings and the founding director of the Congressional Budget Office, and Sidney G. Winter, professor emeritus of management at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the leading figures in the revival of evolutionary economics, both received honorary doctoral degrees of humane letters.

More than 1,000 undergraduate, graduate, and law students received their newly minted degrees at the ceremony, held at the BankUnited Center. Read profiles of some of UM’s stellar graduates, including the School of Communication’s Iris Barrios and Miami Law’s Vanessa Joseph and Brendan Corrigan.

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Meet the Press’s Chuck Todd to Speak at Fall Commencement


Meet the Press’s Chuck Todd to Speak at Fall Commencement

UM News

Meet the Press - Season 67

A Miami native, Chuck Todd has been passionate about politics almost as long as he’s been a fan of the Miami Hurricanes.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (November 22, 2014)—Chuck Todd, the political director of NBC News and the moderator and managing editor of the network’s flagship “Meet the Press” Sunday morning public affairs program—the longest-running broadcast in television history—will be the speaker at the University’s fall commencement ceremony at 10 a.m. on Thursday, December 18.

A self-described political junkie who has earned a reputation as one of the most passionate journalists and sharpest analysts in American media, Todd has held the role of political director since March 2007, leading all aspects of the news division’s political coverage and analysis across every platform.

He is also the editor of First Read, NBC’s must-read guide to political news and trends in and around Washington, D.C., and the coauthor of the definitive election result analysis book for the 2008 presidential campaign, How Barack Obama Won, published by Vintage. His second book, The Stranger: Barack Obama in the White House, was released in November 2014 by Little, Brown and Company.

A native of Miami who has been passionate about politics since middle school—almost as long as he’s been a Miami Hurricanes fan—Todd previously served as NBC News Chief White House Correspondent (2008-2014) and hosted MSNBC’s “The Daily Rundown” (2010-2014). Upon his appointment to “Meet the Press,” influencers and competitors praised him as “a tireless reporter” with “an encyclopedic knowledge of politics” and the ability to “break down barriers and get people off of their talking points.”

He will address more than 1,000 undergraduate, graduate, and law students who will receive their newly minted degrees at the BankUnited Center.


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