As an employee of the University of Florida, graduation week is my favorite time of year. While it’s bittersweet to say farewell to my many young friends, it’s a thrill to share in the excitement as they prepare to take the next step in their lives. Their optimism and ambition is contagious.
This year’s graduation will be in the Swamp, UF’s football battlefield where three national championships have been won. Gainesville’s notorious springtime downpours discourage outdoor graduation ceremonies, but this year is different. The iconic O’Connell Center Stadium, where graduation is normally held, is under construction.
On my walk to work this morning as I passed by the O’Connell Center construction site, I nodded to a hard hat named Jeff Simon, who stands sentry at the entrance, ensuring that no passersby wander into the danger zone. As he always does, Jeff greeted me with a nod and a smile. He made a comment that caused me to think deeply.
“Let’s go out and make a difference in the world today,” he said.
I was immersed in thought about my agenda for the day and his words didn’t sink in until several minutes later. Then the dichotomy of the two worlds on the same campus struck me profoundly. Thousands of UF graduates will go out into the world after this week’s graduation with educations that have prepared them to make a difference in their various fields, while Jeff stands in the blistering Florida sun smiling and giving encouragement to everyone he encounters.
The takeaway is clear. It’s not education or status in life that empowers us to make a difference. It is our attitude. Making a difference in the world requires the ability to truly care about the people who inhabit it.
Jeff is a shining example of how we can all have an impact.