SARASOTA, Fla. (Dec. 15, 2017) Deborah Vaughan heard the ovation once she stepped onto the stage.
One of 241 candidates for graduation from USF Sarasota-Manatee , Vaughan was on hand at the Bradenton Area Convention Center  Monday night to receive an MBA. Family members who traveled across the state, and from Missouri, cheered loudly as her name was called from the roll of candidates.
The occasion, USFSM’s 68th commencement convocation, marked the completion of a long journey for Vaughan, the end of an effort to earn a bachelor’s degree in business management and a master’s degree in business administration.
Working during the day as a bank manager, Vaughan, 48, a 1987 Bayshore High alumna, squeezed in the raft of college courses whenever she could, first at State College of Florida and later at USF Sarasota-Manatee.
Decked out in green – even her nail polish and jewelry matched USF’s colors – Vaughan was determined to make the most of her graduation experience. Her son, Ryan, and husband, Rod, proved to be her biggest supporters, but her parents weren’t far behind.
“Many times I wondered if I could (complete my studies), but I had many family members and friends that pushed me and said I could do it,” she said. Then she added, choking back tears, “Thank you mom and dad for always believing in me, no matter what, through thick and thin.”
Vaughan was among 145 students from USFSM’s four colleges – Liberal Arts & Social Sciences , Business , Science & Mathematics , and Hospitality & Tourism Leadership  – who participated in the graduation exercises. Of those, about 25 were master’s degree candidates.
Interim Regional Chancellor Dr. Terry Osborn represented USF Sarasota-Manatee and USF System President Dr. Judy Genshaft presided over the two-hour ceremony. Dr. Bonnie Jones, assistant vice president for institutional research and effectiveness at USFSM, served as ceremony reader.
Just as it had for Vaughan, the convocation proved to be the end of a journey for Elisabetta Di Virgilio. A native of Pescara, Italy, Di Virgilio said she had longed to move to the United States since childhood. Twice during high school she took trips to New York City and Boston, which served only to reinforce her dreams of immigrating here.
She finally got the chance as a college student in Italy. She was able to transfer to a community college in New Hampshire and enroll a year later at USF Sarasota-Manatee. The work was never easy, and although she spoke “maybe 20 words” of English when she arrived, Di Virgilio was able to graduate four years later with a perfect 4.0 grade point average. Her mother and father, Ornella and Clemente, were on hand for graduation, having traveled from Italy to celebrate their daughter’s accomplishment.
“I am just extremely thankful to them,” she said. “They gave so much to me, selflessly giving anything that I needed,” she said. “I just want to thank them for their selfless, unconditional love.”
Di Virgilio was one of four winners of the King O’Neal Award for academic excellence. The other three were Karstyn Goldblum, Amy Miller and Octavio Gomez.
Family was also the focus of Davis Moeckel, 22, who graduated with a business degree after having been a member of USFSM’s first freshman class in 2013. His mother, Rita, had “plenty of Kleenex” on hand for the moment her son stepped forward to accept his diploma. She was accompanied by her husband, Scot, and daughter, Kati.
“I’m incredibly proud of him,” Scot Moeckel said. “He’s the one who made it happen. He’s a good kid.”
Moeckel said he chose USFSM because of its business program and proximity to his home in Lakewood Ranch. The next phase of life will see him at a job at a wealth management firm.
“It’s an unreal feeling, knowing that I’m graduating and starting a new job in a few months,” he said.
Other graduation notables: Dr. Sunita Lodwig, who was named Outstanding Professor, and Jaime Hernandez Carranza, who was named winner of the Golden Bull and Outstanding Graduate awards. He received a bachelor’s degree in biology.
A magna cum laude graduate, Hernandez Carranza said he will seek admission to medical school this spring. Like the other graduates, he praised his parents who instilled in him a spirit of perseverance.
“They would take on every kind of work to help our family and they showed me what was possible if I had a good work ethic,” said Hernandez Carranza, the oldest of five. “I owe everything to them.”