St. Petersburg Police Chief Goliath Davis III encouraged University of South Florida graduates Sunday to fulfill "the promise of America" and work for social equality.
Davis, who earned a master's degree in criminal justice at USF in 1977 and is an adjunct professor, spoke at the Mahaffey Theater during the commencement ceremony for about 225 graduates of USF's St. Petersburg campus.
Davis, who became the city's first African-American police chief a year ago, warned graduates to be wary of efforts to roll back the gains of the civil rights movement, citing the dismantling of affirmative action at California colleges and a backlash against immigrants.
"America, oh America, where art thou on the issue of human rights?" he asked. "Where art thou on the issue of justice?"
Davis said he was dismayed at the growing "economic segregation" between the rich and the poor in America. "Economic empowerment is the next wave of the civil rights movement," he said. Davis called on schools, families and churches to work together to make sure that every American has an equal shot at success.
The graduates also heard from USF President Betty Castor, who focused on the future of USF's St. Petersburg campus in her address.
Castor vowed the St. Petersburg campus would grow to allow students to complete degrees completely on site. She praised a partnership that lets St. Petersburg Junior College students take USF courses as well as plans to offer more USF courses in north Pinellas County.
"We gather today to celebrate the future of our graduates," Castor said. "But we are also celebrating the future of the St. Petersburg campus, which is very, very bright indeed."
Among the graduates this year were 20 students in the first graduating class of the Teacher for All Children program. The candidates each received a Florida teacher certification in elementary education and a master's degree in special education.
Otherwise, the graduation's pomp and circumstance were like any other ceremony taking place this spring. Graduates fretted about how to wear their caps. Some taped messages to the top. One woman donned shades, a black boa and added a leopard skin pattern to her cap.
The Florida Orchestra's brass quintet played the graduation march while cameras flickered through the Mahaffey Theater. Families cheered as their loved ones crossed the stage to mark the end of a period in their lives.
And the start of another.
Amie Meyer, a 24-year-old who received her bachelor's degree in social sciences, was bound for Texas to help start a company designing pages for the World Wide Web.
Meanwhile, her friend, 31-year-old Teresa Carlton, said she wants to volunteer with AmeriCorps for a year after completing her bachelor's degree in women's studies.
Jennifer Leynes, a 25-year-old social sciences major, is considering becoming a flight attendant. "I switched majors about eight times," said Leynes. "This is closure."