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To Class of 2015 grads, speakers dig deep to find nuggets of advice

I'm not sure Jimmy Buffett's Wasting Away in Margaritaville lyrics send the best message to graduating college students. Perhaps the theme of his song Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes better fits the bill for grads trying new things in new places.

Speaking at the University of Miami, Buffett's casual style — wearing flip-flops (of course) beneath his honorary doctorate robes — belied a musical and now business brand phenom who owns restaurant, liquor and hotel chains.

But it did not all come together overnight.

"I took a little while, but I got my act together," he said. "These days I am up about the time I used to go to bed."

Graduates may not yet realize it, but that message — It's time to get up with the rest of the world — is one of the best commencement insights for the young and loan-burdened facing a tough job market.

Other speakers also tried to break through the monotony of Pollyanna advice.

At Jacksonville University, former Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney leaned on windy platitudes. "As much as you think you know about the world," he said, "you will find, even after an entire lifetime, that there is much more you don't know than what you do know."

Romney then redeemed himself, urging people to get involved this election season. "For the sake of preserving freedom, vote," he said.

Sheila Johnson, the country's first black female billionaire, whose holdings include Palm Harbor's Innisbrook Resort, spoke at American University's School of Communications in Washington, D.C. She called for professional balance.

"Where is the line between information or entertainment? What matters more: ratings or realism? How do we balance the pressure to be first with the burden to check the facts?" Good questions.

In Tallahassee, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack asked Florida A&M University graduates to share their acquired expertise. "Since this is a school that focuses on science and technology, engineering, mathematics and agriculture, there is an important role that these students will play in developing a better relationship between Americans and science," he said.

On Saturday, University of Tampa speaker Kay Isaacson-Leibowitz, Class of 1968, admitted that as a C student with no idea what she wanted to be, she never imagined giving a commencement address. "Nor did my professors, parents or friends," she said, laughing.

But she would become prominent in retailing, serving as a senior executive at Victoria's Secret, and co-founding the World of Children Award that helps children around the globe.

In uplifting remarks, Isaac­son-Leibowitz said curiosity is her most prized trait. "It has pushed me to make bold decisions, to be a courageous leader, to be passionate about my life and my career," she said. "Curious people are good listeners and say what needs to be said."

Be curious. Excellent advice, at last. Congratulations, every Class of 2015.

Contact Robert Trigaux at rtrigaux@tampabay.com.

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