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Best and Brightest

6:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 11 – Ruby Diamond Concert Hall

It’s a joy to be here tonight, and I am honored to have the privilege of speaking to you this evening.

To the students we are recognizing today — congratulations!! You truly are the best and brightest of Leon County!

And to the teachers and principals, friends and family — and especially the parents — congratulations to you as well. Because while the accomplishments of the students on stage tonight are theirs alone, they did not get here by themselves.

They got here with a lot of love and support from the adults in their lives who provided guidance and perhaps the occasional push.

Not to mention all the rides to school, practices and lessons. All the recitals, games and performances you attended. All the late night runs to Target for that poster board needed for a project due the next day.

So this is a wonderful opportunity to recognize the support you have provided and the sacrifices you have made that have led to your child being recognized today.

Students, before you leave here tonight, please take time to thank the important people in your lives for all they have done to help you reach this milestone.

What I love about this particular awards ceremony is that it’s not just about attaining a certain GPA. It’s about honoring students who have a passion for something — whether that’s art or athletics, music or mathematics.

That passion coupled with a selfless dedication to public service while maintaining an enviable academic record is something to celebrate.

So to the 153 high school seniors who are finalists for these awards tonight — I salute you. I salute your commitment to excellence and your commitment to service.

Your accomplishments will serve you well as you prepare to take the next steps in your journey. In just a few weeks, you will be graduating. Many of you will go to college, and I hope I will be seeing some of you at FSU this fall. Some of you, perhaps, will join the military or pursue a career or technical education.

That means big changes are coming. And with those big changes come big decisions. From choosing a major or deciding where to live and work, it can be an exciting — but overwhelming — time.

Life certainly is different today than when I graduated from high school in 1961. Everything moves at a faster pace now. You have Starbucks and Snapchat. We had the soda shop and snail mail.

But the big questions facing any 17- or 18-year-old remain the same: What do I want to do with my life? Will I succeed? How can I make a difference?

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

When I came to Florida State as student, 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 a 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. I learned a lot about leadership, discipline and determination, and I came home ready to succeed in law school.

My service to my country also led me to 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.

I got here by achieving one goal at a time, by developing relationships with people I admire, being open to new opportunities and by staying true to my passion — working with others to make a difference in the lives of Floridians.

I don’t know where your path will lead you. But I can tell you — you are all way ahead of the game.

You are recognized as the best in your schools, and you are finalists for tonight’s top awards.

And we have eighth-grade students here in the front rows, who at ages 13 and 14, are already pondering the meaning of a quote by anthropologist Margaret Mead.

Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

I think we have before us a small group of thoughtful, committed people like Mead was talking about. You would not be here if you were not.

As you continue your journey, keep doing exactly what brought you to this stage tonight: Keep setting goals, keep pursuing academic excellence, keep serving your community and keep indulging your passions.

Whether you are an artist, athlete, journalist, public speaker or scientist, you CAN change the world, just like Mead said.

And I know you will.

Congratulations, and best of luck to all of you!