Some chose elementary education. Others opted for biology, criminology or business. Whatever their aspiration, the two dozen who will stride across the stage Monday to accept their diplomas can all lay claim to a unique affiliation. They’re members of USF Sarasota-Manatee’s first freshman class.
Many of the 100 who enrolled in fall 2013 have already graduated, taking advantage of accelerated educational programs. Others are delaying their graduation until December, while some have transferred to USF in Tampa or other institutions or taken a different path altogether.
But to those earning diplomas Monday, USFSM’s 67th Commencement at the Bradenton Convention Center will signal the start of a new chapter.
Meanwhile, they leave an enduring legacy.
During their time here, a basketball court and volleyball court were constructed and a new Student Commons opened. More than a dozen new student clubs were founded, a slate of engaging speakers visited Selby Auditorium and innumerable festivals were held, as well.
For the campus itself, the first freshman class represented a turning point.
For most of its 41 years, USFSM served as an “upper-division transfer university,” offering two-year baccalaureate degrees and master’s degrees. In 2012, the school began accepting sophomores, and in 2013 it welcomed its first batch of freshmen.
Most of USFSM’s students remain transfer students, but after receiving state approval in June 2015 to lift its cap on freshman and sophomore enrollments, that dynamic is gradually changing. More than 120 freshmen are expected in September as a result of new programs and stepped-up recruiting. That will set a record for USFSM.
But it was the 2013 freshman class that laid the foundation and set USFSM on a new course. Here’s a snapshot of some those students who graduate on Monday. The ceremony starts at 6:30 p.m.:
A criminology student, Becht served as Student Body president the past academic year and was on hand last fall when USFSM cut the ribbon on the new Student Commons.
He contributed to the creation of USFSM’s basketball court and has been a fixture at scores of campus functions.
In fact, he’s been a part of so many events that it’s hard to pinpoint one pivotal moment.
But when asked, he points to last February when, after having visited Tallahassee twice before, he led USFSM students to the capitol to remind lawmakers about the campus’ importance to Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte counties.
“To be able to advance the interests of students at the state level, it’s something I’ll always be proud of,” he said.
Becht said he chose USFSM because it was an affordable alternative to costlier mega-campuses.
“To engage with professors and other students” in a small setting was important. “You could never do that at a large campus,” he said.
Looking ahead, the 22-year-old is aiming to work on a political campaign in Virginia and then attend law school.
“I’ll miss the people the most, the relationships with my professors and other students,” he said.
Graduation literally wouldn’t be the same without Bradtmueller.
She’s been USFSM’s “go-to” student to sing the National Anthem at commencement exercises for the past four years.
Not that she minded.
The lead vocalist for country music band Rebel Heart, Bradtmueller has been singing for as long as she can remember. In addition to loving music she loves teaching, and on Monday she’ll graduate with a degree in elementary education.
“I love working with kids, but not just that. I love teaching and learning, and when you see them understand something, it’s so rewarding,” she said.
Like other School of Education students, Bradtmueller interned at local schools to sharpen her skills and gain practical knowledge. Opting for USFSM also provided her a setting to work closely with knowledgeable professors.
“It’s nice to go to a school where the teachers know who you are. It helps with learning because they understand you,” she said.
A product of Sarasota Military Academy, Bradtmueller grew up in Sarasota and wants to stay local when she graduates. She wants to teach in Sarasota or Manatee in the fall.
We hope the same – and that she continues singing at USFSM commencements.
A biology major, Lambert was on hand when USFSM debuted its teaching labs at Mote Marine Laboratory in 2014.
He chose USFSM for its proximity to home and affordability. Between savings and scholarships, he expects to graduate with zero student debt. “The financial incentive coming here and the partnership with Mote were really attractive to me,” he said.
The son of a physician’s assistant and a perfusion technologist (a heart-lung machine specialist), Lambert excelled in his studies. He counted “Medicines of the Rain Forest,” taught by Dr. Edie Banner, as his favorite class, and will miss most the impromptu science discussions with classmates and faculty.
Looking ahead, he’s considering spending several months in Nepal with members of the Mennonite Church, visiting local villages. At some point, he might enroll in a Mennonite seminary. He admits also to an abiding interest in science and medicine.
Of USFSM, he said, “I going to miss the academics. I really like learning, and it’s really fun to have conversations based on the same material you’re reading because you can really discuss it freely.
“But I’m excited to move on and do whatever comes next,” he said. “I feel ministry is where I really have a passion.”
Business seems to be in Vu’s genes. Her parents were business owners while one brother is an accountant and another is studying advertising. So it seemed only natural Vu would enroll in USFSM’s College of Business.
Immediately, she threw herself into college life, and not just when it came to classes.
As director of Student Government’s Office of Marketing and Promotions, Vu played a key role organizing and promoting campus events. One event, February’s Asian-inspired Lunar New Year’s Lantern Festival, won her a campus involvement leadership award.
Vu said she toured several universities before choosing USFSM.
“I remember coming to an open house and it really impacted me,” she said. “The people made me feel so welcome and they were so inviting. I could see how impassioned they were about the university.”
Having small class sizes was another essential: “It’s more interactive than sitting in a lecture hall with 500 students. It allows for discussion and makes you feel that you can speak up.”
Looking ahead, Vu is eying marketing jobs but wants to take time off this summer as well. Next year, she plans to pursue an MBA.
“At USFSM, I developed as a student, but I also experienced a lot of personal growth and I’ve been able to build on that,” she said. “You get that small-town feel here, but you’re also part of a larger university system.”