Commencement speakers

Mark Ulrikson’s “Adrift” was featured as the New Yorker magazine’s cover for May 2012.

When artist Mark Ulriksen was asked to design a cover about graduation for the New Yorker, he thought about the notion of a big crowd of people all faced with the same situation at the same time. This led him to consider what other kinds of big crowds people see when they get together for the same purpose. For Ulrikson, it was penguins. They are “adrift,” just like this year’s graduating class.

It’s this same theme of venturing into the unknown that the student commencement speaker, thesis student Brittani “Brie” McLemore, will focus on in her address.

“There is that whole question of what are you going to do after you graduate,” McLemore said. “I think that’s something I don’t think a lot of us have answers for yet. My speech talks about that and how it’s kind of okay if you don’t have it completely figured out. It’s about just trusting that New College gave us the tools to figure it out some day.”

It has been several years since a student has been a commencement speaker, but third-year Michael “Mike” Long suggested to have one this year. During the fall semester, students were asked to nominate graduating students to speak at graduation.

“When they first asked me to confirm, I thought it was a joke,” McLemore said. “Every year they nominate a student to be the [main] commencement speaker and it’s always a joke and never serious so I said ‘yes’ not realizing it wasn’t a joke.”

Six of the students that were nominated presented a “rough draft” of their speeches at the Four Winds Café this past April.  McLemore was one of the few who did not have a prepared speech, but improvised it. After Novocollegians voted for who they wanted to be their student representative speaker via online survey, McLemore was chosen. She has yet to find out who initially nominated her, but appreciated that someone trusted her with that task.

McLemore saw the opportunity as a way to give back to the student body and the people she had known since day one of orientation.

“There’s a common thing that we all have to face and that’s the question of ‘what do we do now?’” she continued. “There’s a lot of boredom involved and excitement and being scared. We all can relate to that.”

Thesis student Brittani “Brie” McLemore was chosen by Novocollegians as this year’s student representative commencement speaker.

Judge Charles E. Williams, who will give the keynote address at commencement, related to this same mixed bag of feelings.

“It’s always an exciting and scary experience,” Williams said. “There’s a lot of anxiety and apprehension but for the most part, an overall good feeling.”

He added that graduates should embrace those feelings – anxiety and all – and turn it into “positive energy.” According to Williams, young graduates have a lot of years ahead of them and a lot of opportunities available.

“Now we are in a real international world,” he said. “There are opportunities globally. That’s something relatively new. If I were a graduate, I would certainly start looking globally. It’s a really great opportunity to see the world.”

This will be his first commencement address at the college level. Williams, who usually speaks to younger audiences, said a common theme that runs through all his speeches is to never stop educating yourself.

“The learning process is a lifelong process,” Williams said. “Things dealing with public service and the commitment to help others are also constant themes regardless whether I’m addressing people at the college level or at even the high school or elementary level.”

Williams is part of the 12th Judicial Circuit of Florida, where he has been presiding over Sarasota County civil cases for 16 years. During his years living in Sarasota, he has become impressed by New College.

“It’s national, even international, reputation… speaks for itself,” Williams said. “The first thing you think of when you think of New College students is obviously how bright and intelligent they are. My impression is that they are free thinkers who will chart their own path.”

When President Donal O’Shea asked Williams to give this year’s commencement speech, he felt humbled and recognized the fact that the majority of graduates will have no recollection of the commencement address. Williams, who mostly recalled the events surrounding his undergraduate commencement, said, “hopefully, at least for the short term, there will be a memory of what I say.”

McLemore encouraged everyone to attend commencement whether you know someone graduating or not.

“Even though it’s such a small school, there are barely any events that bring everyone together,” she said. “Everyone should come out just to see what it’s like. It’s way different than any graduation that any other college does. There’s always something exciting.”

This year’s commencement will take place on Friday, May 24 at the Bayfront. 

Information for this article was taken from

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