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Honors Night

6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 14 – Honors, Scholars and Fellows House

Good evening. It’s a joy to be here tonight, and I am honored to have been asked to speak at your Honors Night Ceremony.

Congratulations to each of the initiates, and welcome to the parents, family members and friends who have joined us today.

This is a wonderful opportunity for Florida State University to recognize the choices — and sometimes sacrifices — you have made that have led to your induction into a prestigious honor society.

We are here tonight to celebrate this remarkable achievement. No matter which of the 10 honor societies you belong to, they all recognize academic excellence. Many also recognize leadership and service.

You have worked hard, and you should be very proud of this recognition. Enjoy it.

But I hope what makes you the most proud is not the key or the pin that represents your honor society. I hope it’s not the addition of another item to what I’m sure is an already impressive resume.

I hope what makes you the most proud is the work that it took to get here and what you have learned along the way.

I think Henry David Thoreau was right when he said, “What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.”

Many of you have become academic stars and campus leaders. But what else have you become since arriving on Florida State’s campus?

Are you stronger than you thought? More courageous? More willing to speak out for something — or someone — you believe in?

Have you made new friends? Learned about other cultures? Expanded your worldview?

Have you become a better person?

I know some of you here tonight, but I don’t know every one of our honorees. Yet I feel quite confident in saying the answer to that question is YES. You all have become better people.

You have done it by putting in the extra effort to make the grade, by getting out of bed in the morning to do volunteer work, by taking a break from selfies and Snapchat to serve your campus.

I know that many of you here are in different stages of your academic careers. Some of you, like the members of Phi Eta Sigma, are only in your first year of college. Others are juniors and seniors, and some of you I imagine I will be seeing at graduation in two weeks.

Whether you have a few more years with us at Florida State or whether you are about to join the ranks of our 320,000 alumni, you all have a long journey in front of you.

That means you have a lot of decisions to make. From choosing a major to deciding where to live and work, it can be an exciting — but overwhelming — time.

I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to have it all figured out.

When I came to Florida State, I was the first in my family to go to college. In fact, I was the first to finish high school — my parents had only an eighth-grade education.

But I set a goal for myself. Now, if you’re thinking my goal was to one day become university president, you would be wrong. Very wrong. It was simply this: Graduate.

I did that — and got married — and before I could set another big goal, I got a surprise in the form of a draft notice. That was not in my plan, but I was happy to serve my country. In fact, I saw it as an opportunity.

I entered Officer Candidate School and spent four years in the Army, first in Germany and then in Vietnam. My years of service taught me leadership, discipline and determination.

I came home ready to succeed in law school. My service to my country led me to later consider how I could serve my community, my state and my university. I did so by serving on my local school board, then in the Florida Legislature, and now I’m honored to have the job of a lifetime where I can serve my alma mater as president.

But when I reflect on where I was at your age, I can tell you — you are way ahead of the game.

Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

By your induction into a prestigious honor society, it’s clear that you have already formed habits of excellence.These habits will help you when it comes time to make those tough decisions, set goals and find new opportunities when life throws you a curve ball. And it will.

But you have the strength, skill and character to persevere and triumph.

As a member of an honorary society, you are among the nation’s elite college students. Your accomplishments are not only significant to you and your family — they serve as points of pride for Florida State University.

With the honor comes great admiration and also great expectations. Your Florida State family expects a lot from you because we know you are capable of tremendous success. Again, congratulations and best of luck to all of you!