CLAS Commencement

2008 Commencement

Keynote Address

Stephanie Abrams, Keynote Speaker
2008

Interim Dean Glover and President Machen, thank you very much for your kind words and for this great honor...I would also like to thank a past professor of mine, Dr. Pete Waylen, for nominating me. I am truly humbled to be here today, back at UF, accepting this award—one of the few Tim Tebow has yet to receive—So, thank you!

To the proud parents, overjoyed grandparents, siblings (who are busy texting) and the class of 2008 themselves, congratulations! Congratulations on accomplishing this enormous goal. Congratulations as you move forward on one of the infinite paths that life has to offer. Paths that can lead to opportunities you never imagined.

I mean, Archimedes accidentally discovered the principle of buoyancy simply by taking a bath. George de Mestral accidentally invented Velcro while hiking in the woods after becoming bothered by having to continually pull off those annoying burrs that kept sticking to his clothes. And meteorologist and mathematician Edward Lorenz was on a path that unknowingly led him to the “Butterfly Effect” – not the popular movie with Ashton Kutcher – the idea that explains how one small change can lead to a completely different outcome.

It’s the principle that explains how a tiny butterfly flapping its wings in Tahiti, can theoretically cause a tornado in Topeka, Kansas. To look at it in another way, how one decision in your life can lead to a completely different outcome (just imagine if Archimedes had decided to take a shower instead of a bath that one day). It can also describe how a choice made by someone you don’t know, possibly on the other side of the world, can change the direction in which your life travels.

My life would have most likely taken a completely different path had I not attended the University of Florida.

I was born and raised in the Sunshine State, surrounded by math and science – my father sent me to Space Camp, twice, loved showing me the moon and planets through his telescope and even took the family on a trip to see a total solar eclipse – yet that didn’t mean I knew what I wanted to do with my life.

Then there was Hurricane Andrew – one of only 3 category 5 hurricanes on record to hit the United States. This monster left a lasting impression on me, especially after driving past Homestead, Florida and seeing the damage first hand. I couldn’t imagine how essentially rain and wind could cause such destruction. I was curious to know how hurricanes worked, but even then, it wasn’t like a giant light went off above my head and suddenly I knew what I wanted to do with my life – No, that wouldn’t be until years later.

First I had to enroll at UF, which I did in the summer of 1996, without knowing what major to declare, which was scary as so many of my friends knew exactly what path they wanted their life to take. So, at the suggestion of my father, and in the hopes of finding something I’d be passionate about, I took classes I didn’t think I’d enjoy as well as the science class which I knew I’d love. Yet, nothing excited or energized me enough to want to make a career out of it…. that is until I took a general meteorology class. Like a butterfly flapping its wings, this one small decision to take this class took me on a journey I couldn't have dreamed – I’d finally found the starting point for the path that was meant for me.

I found meteorology to be interesting, challenging and the subject matter electrifying. I was finally learning how hurricanes worked, why we have afternoon thunderstorms in Florida, and what caused a blizzard. It was all so fascinating to me, I was so passionate about it, but most importantly, it made me tick!
And even though meteorology wasn’t offered as a major at UF, and I wouldn’t really say I was exactly encouraged to go into this highly competitive field, it didn’t matter to me, because I couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my life.

And just like that, with another flap of the wings of the butterfly, I had to make the hardest decision for any true-orange and blue-blooded Gator -- I had to go about an hour north and another 2-hours west to Tallahassee, after graduating from UF.

And if I thought moving from Gainesville to enemy territory would be difficult, meteorology school was even more challenging. With loads of physics and math dispersed through a majority of the classes, I wasn’t sure if I was in over my head. You better believe I was “that student” who used just about every available minute that was offered by professors for extra help. I made it through (only mildly traumatized) and was ready to hit the pavement and get a job, like a lot of my friends had over the past couple of years while I was still finishing up in school.

I sent out resume tapes (VHS of course as DVD’s were still somewhat of a novelty) with weathercasts I had performed on the student run television program. I sent out tape after tape, but was unsuccessful! I got rejection letter “We’re not looking for a person with your unique qualifications and skills” after rejection letter “Thank you for your interest, although the position you applied for has been filled” after rejection letter “Your interest is greatly appreciated. However, after consideration of a highly competitive field we have selected another candidate.” You might have already felt the pain of those words, but don’t let it distract you from pursuing your passion.

Finally, graduation had come and I couldn’t get a job. I had worked exceptionally hard in school, completed internships, practiced forecasting, built graphics, presented the weather in front of the green screen (yes, for all of you wondering it is just a big blank green screen behind you when presenting the weather). I had basically done everything by the books in order to get a job, but nobody wanted me! I was disappointed and feared the worst: “what if I wasn’t good enough?” But again, I couldn’t fathom doing anything else with my life.

So, not willing to give up, I pressed on, even without a job after graduation. I was fortunate enough to have a professor let me continue working as a teaching assistant, until another butterfly flapped its wings. And then it happened: a classmate who graduated a year before me was leaving the position as weekend meteorologist at the local ABC affiliate in Tallahassee and was kind enough to give my resume tape to the news director who ended up hiring me. Suddenly, I went from studying and teaching what I loved to getting paid to actually do what I loved!

After a few months working weekends I was moved to mornings where I greatly improved my skills and suddenly found myself ready to flap my own wings -- ready to move to a bigger television market. One of my former professors suggested I send my tape to some alumni. And while there was yet again even more rejection, there was one alumna, who worked at The Weather Channel, who was kind enough to take the time to critique my tape. And over time I did my best to listen to her advice and made vast improvements.

Then came the decision, now….I would compare this more to a Pterodactyl flapping its wings, than that of a tiny butterfly, because this one choice was going to dramatically change the direction of my life. There was a moment where I could have taken a job in one of the top 50 (out of 210) television markets, wait for the possibility that something would open up at The Weather Channel, or lose both opportunities and end up back where I started. For me there was no better place to work than THE Weather Channel, to me it would have been just like the moment Charley Bucket found that last and coveted Golden Ticket! I took the risk to wait for The Weather Channel job and as they say the rest is history.

So, as you embark on this grand journey to find your path, remember that in both the good times and bad times a butterfly can flap its wings at any moment and present you with an opportunity that could change the course of your life. And while you won’t know the outcome of taking any of those infinite paths, know that if you find something you love, work as hard as you possibly can, make the best decision at that moment, over time you will pave the path that is perfect for you.

Again, Congratulations – Good Luck and I hope each of you has a life filled with happiness, health and laughter (oh and of course, good weather)!
Thank you and Go Gators!

Students

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