By Phillip Milano
Life is not about waiting around for what may come your way.
Your future won’t be better than your present, unless you use your present as a stepping stone to that future.
You have the power right now to change the entire direction of what will one day be your future.
Those were just some of the nuggets of advice offered by Jacksonville University junior and athlete Chunia Graves, the keynote speaker for the Jacksonville University Class of 2017 Matriculation on Friday, Aug. 23.
“From now on, every ‘now’ is important to you,” she told the incoming freshmen before her, who make up an incoming class of nearly 900 this school year. “Every hard-working person in the present will serve a powerful purpose in the future. But you must serve as your own driving force for each and every one of your goals.”
Graves’ stirring words in Swisher Gymnasium come at a time when JU’s enrollment and quality of students are both improving, and when much is being done on campus to create the best student experience possible. That includes a remodeled Riverview Café, a new Chick-fil-A eatery, more wireless locations, new Welcome Center in Williams Hall on South Campus and expanded parking. A completely overhauled River House gathering spot is slated for completion this school year.
JU President Tim Cost welcomed the students and took time to point out the rich and varied makeup of the incoming class: Students come from 35 different states and as far away as Jamaica, Nigeria, China, India, Bolivia and Zimbabwe; there are five First Coast valedictorians, the most in recent history; included in their ranks are Eagle Scouts, an American Legion Scholastic Medal Winner and a member of the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution; some of the students graduated from high school this year and already have their Associates of Science degrees; one student won a national title for baton twirling; and many students have done volunteer and service work for organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, Houston Healthcare, Eagle Mount and Mission Flight United.
“We speak many languages, and are from different countries, but today, we all become one family,” Cost said. “You are all excellent, and I know you will do well here at JU.”
Cost introduced “JU living legend” Dr. Frances Bartlett Kinne, former president and chancellor emeritus, who came to JU in 1958. She told the students how thrilled she was at the progress occurring at the University.
“We have this great faculty here for you, and you need to become acquainted with them,” she said. “You are in a tremendous safe haven for learning, and many exciting things are going to happen for you.”
JU Chief Academic Officer Dr. Bill Crosby focused on the freedom and independence the new students now enjoy – and the personal responsibility as well.
“Be prepared. Turn in your assignments. Take part in discussions. I challenge you to maintain the highest level of ethics and integrity, because once you lose people’s trust, it is hard to regain,” he said. “I also urge you to get to know your faculty, get involved and make friends. You must take the initiative and accept invitations, or you will feel left out. Dream big dreams and set lofty goals.”
Charlot Wedge, JU Director of Academic Engagement, came armed with eye-opening data to give the students an idea of just how fortunate they are to be pursuing a higher-education degree. For example, she said, only 6.7 percent of the world’s population has a college degree; the U.S. unemployment rate for high school graduates is 8.3 percent, compared to 4.5 percent for college grads; and college-educated adults earn as much as $1 million more over their careers than non-college educated adults.
“So, don’t give up on yourselves, because we won’t give up on you,” she said.
Parents in the audience said they were grateful for the friendly reception given their students on campus.
Luis Quintero, of Miami, whose son Ryan, 19, is transferring in as a sophomore and is a JU Dolphins pitcher, said he was impressed with how faculty and staff had created a warm environment.
“You’ve got all the resources here on campus, but yet it’s not so large. It seems like a place where you can meet fellow students. I’ve told Ryan to get involved, to make sure to attend his fellow athletes’ games, like lacrosse and football.”
For her part, Graves said afterward that she was nervous to speak in front of the large crowd, but that she felt compelled to let the new students know they can do anything if they put their minds to it.
“I feel my purpose in life is to bring people together,” she said, walking toward the Kinne University Center. “In fact, if the last thing I ever did was to help bring JU together as a community, then I would have lived an amazing life. And I’d just be chillin’ in heaven.”