Professor, author Ted Spiker addresses Summer 2019 graduates

Ted Spiker is a professor and chairman of the University of Florida’s Department of Journalism in the College of Journalism and Communications. Spiker was named the 2016-17 UF's Teacher of the Year, and he is a two-time winner of Teacher of the Year in the UF College of Journalism and Communications. His speech is below:

Thank you, President Fuchs.

As a faculty member at UF for almost 20 years, I am honored to be here this morning. And I am grateful every day to work with and learn from INCREDIBLE students like you.

You—the class of 2019—have had quite a run during your college career.

In the classroom, you have seen UF catapult into the Top 10 list of public universities in the country and have unprecedented levels of faculty hiring with the goal of turbocharging your education.

In sports, you have witnessed the resurgence of Florida football, the emergence of a “won't back down” tradition, and the dominance of some Gator GOATs (I’m talking Amanda Lorenz, Caeleb Dressel, Kelly Barnhill, Grant Holloway).

In your feeds, you have seen the most social-savvy president in the history of higher education. Right? President Fuchs is actually a living-breathing-tweeting commencement lesson. That lesson being: you can have an incredibly important job and still have a lot of fun while doing it.

How lucky are you to experience all of this?

But today—as you and all the people here know—is NOT about luck. Today is about what YOU have accomplished. And what awaits you. Congratulations, University of Florida Class of 2019.

In the mid-2000s, a new student named Ashley Mills stopped by my office. Ashley transferred from another university, and she was interested in the magazine industry, where I spent the early part of my career.

I asked her, “Where did you transfer from?”

“The University of Delaware,” she said.

Whoa! That’s where I went to college.

“What high school did you go to?”

“St. Mark’s,” she said.

Whoa whoa whoa! That’s where I went!

I mean, what were the chances? A student here at UF had the same ties from 1,000 miles away that I did. We hit it off—not just because we were probably the only two people to share this Spartan-Blue Hen-Gator lineage. But it was also because she grew into an excellent student. Smart, fiery, driven, a gifted writer.

In her senior year, Ashley took my advanced writing course. In every class, she had her eyes wide open, smiling, laughing, participating. And then there was this little thing she did that you may not really notice. When fellow students spoke, Ashley turned toward them. Not just her eyes, not just her head, but her whole body. She—with that one gesture—gave them her respect. She gave them her attention. She listened.

She. Was. Present.

My hardest day as a professor came on a Wednesday afternoon in March when I had to face Ashley’s classmates for the first time after learning that we lost her in a car accident over spring break. I didn’t know what to say, and I could barely speak. That class period, each of us spent time writing notes to Ashley’s mother—to tell her what she meant to us, even in just a handful of weeks into the semester.

I told her mother back in 2007 that I would not forget Ashley, my fellow Delawarean turned Gator. And I am hoping that you—the class of 2019—will help remember Ashley as well. 

Ashley accepted criticism not as judgment, but as a way to learn and grow. She always wanted to learn more. She valued what others had to say. 

She. Was. Present.  

I feel like I have a good idea about what Ashley would want for all of you who are present today.

To feel proud for what you have accomplished.

To feel the energy and love of your people.

To take tons of photos

To hug, handshake and hold conversations

To remember that this day—and the few steps you take across this stage—is the culmination of so many tiny moments.

All of them: The exams, quizzes, readings, papers, parties, snaps, stories, Canvas notifications, Pub Subs, Library West, Grog/Swamp/Social, stadium workouts, laughs, tears, tailgates, “it’s great to be” chants, move ins, move outs, forever friends. All of them.

Now, as you prepare to leave the O’Dome for the last time as an undergraduate to start the next part of your journey, I have five quick asks: 

Number one is about… YOUR GRADES

I know, I know. You’re done. For those of you not continuing on with school, the days of the As, the Bs, maybe some Cs and [cough] Ds and Es are over. Hasthtag hallelujah. You’ve been graded a lot, and you’ve felt the pressure. Yes, grading stops, but the guidance (and critiques) will not. Even when you’ve reached a point when you think you’ve got it, you’re always being tested.

Life never stops grading you. And it’s never easy to have your work—something intensely personal—criticized. Some days you will make mistakes, some days you will conquer the beast, but the pulse of performance never stops. While it may seem like success is defined by mastering your craft, try to remember that the real joy comes from challenging yourself, learning and experiencing new things, and accepting that “grades”—even if they will stop appearing the way you’re used to—are what can make you better.

Number two is about…  YOUR PHONE

Now, I have a complicated history with social media. It’s a love-hate-like-eyeroll-emoji kind of relationship. Our phones have given us tremendous power and opportunity to engage, connect, inform, and entertain. However, with that power comes a caution: specifically what you read and what you react to.

As a community, we need to celebrate diversity of thought, viewpoints, and background. But we also should understand the need for and importance of credible information. While much of the advice you have been given about social media is about what you should or shouldn’t post, you also should think about what others do. And I urge you to be smart consumers of the media. Check the origin of stories and information, think about the credibility of sources, challenge your own assumptions. In our fast media environment, it’s often easiest to live in a “scroll and share” world, but sometimes we need to slow down and engage in a “think and talk” world.

Number three is about… YOUR WORDS

One of the greatest joys of being a faculty member is to have you reach out to us down the road and let us know how you’re doing. Just recently, an alum posted about one her successes and she had quoted something I had told her some 15 years ago. I’m thinking, how in the world did she remember that? But this isn’t about being a teacher (after all, we all morph between teachers and students throughout our lives).

No matter what you do, you all will speak and write millions of words in your lifetime. In emails, in your work, in your conversations. And most of them just zip on by as part of the daily rhythm of life. So the reality is that not all of your words will really matter. But here’s the thing: you never know which ones might. Choose your words with intention, with purpose, with the idea that they may stick with someone for a very long time. 

Number four is about… YOUR TOOLS

Every year, I’m blown away by the skills of students. And you? The collective wisdom and talent sitting right here? It’s hard to even think about all you know, what you can do, and what potential you have. You all, of course, will carry different tools throughout life—and those will change—and there’s no one right “set” that everyone must carry. But from my decades of working with so many students, I hope you consider carrying these things with you:

>>Humility: Let others do the bragging for you.

>>Plasticity: That is, be flexible and realize that your path, your destinations, your goals, and your desires may change. Your ability to adapt to randomness and unpredictability is one of life’s more important skills.

>>Electricity: What energy do you bring to a room? To a group? To others? Be the power source, not the power drain.

Humility. Plasticity. Electricity. Always carry those with you. (And an umbrella, notepad and phone charger. Those are pretty good, too.) 

And finally, number five: YOUR VERBS

I’ve spent my career writing and teaching writing. Writing is both art and craft, so I make a lot of mistakes and I’m still learning all the time. But one thing I can say for certain is this: The VERB propels your sentences. You want to write well? Fortify your verbs. Same goes for life, right? The verb is what you do, who you are, how you live.

From here on out, you’re going to think, work, play, eat, sleep, sweat, dance, love, win, lose, fight, teach, learn, chew, kick, clap, boo, see, smell, push, pull, climb, coast, chill, soar, succeed. 

You will grind and grow. You will fall, fail, and flourish. You will text, snap, and post. You will like, comment, and subscribe. 

You will dream. You will create. You will conquer.

And you will always… CHOMP.

Anyone here have a friend or relative that peppers your inbox or DMs or texts all the time—passing along videos, lists, links, or nuggets of wisdom? For me, that’s Ph.D. psychologist Doug Newburg who studies human performance—he’s someone I met while working on a project but who grew to be a good friend. Over the past decade, he’s sent me over a thousand of those kinds of “look at this” emails. Short ones, long ones, most with some deeper lesson or message.

This is one he sent me last year.

Simply, it said: “With should be a verb.”

My first reaction: You are a grammar-ignoring goon. With isn’t a verb. With is a preposition. Prepositions are the garbage of grammar! Verbs masquerade as the engine, the muscle, the life of a sentence! You do not know what you are talking about.

But then I thought about it. You brilliant sonofafool.

“With” is word that joins, “with” is a word that unites, “with” may very well be one of the most meaningful words in our language.

After all, “with” encompasses everything YOU have done to get here—and what you will do with every step that follows, because life is not a solo expedition. “With” is life’s connector. 

YOU have achieved so much in your time here, and YOU deserve this day and this moment. But as you celebrate your accomplishments and this magnificent milestone, I bet every one of you is doing so thinking about the WITHs in your life. 

WITH your family

WITH your tribes

And WITH Gator Nation 

Congratulations, Class of 2019…. Get up and go.  Thank you.

UF News August 10, 2019