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Lessons from a Life on the Water

Published: December 17, 2018

Social Media Story

At UT’s 147th commencement on Dec. 15, Professor Heather Masonjones shared life lessons from her work as a marine biologist.

2018 December Commencement
The University of Tampa held its 147th commencement Saturday, Dec. 15 at the Florida State Fairgrounds Expo Hall. The ceremony included 667 graduates, including 530 bachelor’s degree candidates and 137 master’s degree candidates. Photo courtesy of @ut_osle

Choose your buddies well. These are the people in life who support you along the way, whether family or friends or life partners.

“Our dive buddies keep us safe, they have our backs. But the best buddies challenge us to keep exploring. They push us to travel to interesting places to dive, bringing far shores in focus,” Masonjones said. “This is why I am so proud to be a part of an institution through our new Office of Undergraduate Research and Inquiry that now funds these types of opportunities for students across all four colleges, creating a culture of scholarship that brings ideas and students together across disciplines to create new knowledge, get invested, get braver and do big things.”

2018 December Commencement
The new alumni, including @liannemccarthy, shared their commencement memories on social media. McCarthy posted, "One of the hardest things for me to do after being diagnosed with AML was dropping out of grad school. So I’m especially proud to have finally walked across that stage and earned this degree Starting another masters in January so take that, blood cancer."

Masonjones is the recipient of the 2017-2018 Louise Loy Hunter Award, which is given annually by its previous recipients to a UT professor for excellence in teaching and cumulative contributions in service and scholarship.

Her second piece of advice was to make waves.

Masonjones has made her own waves by providing the scientific support for establishing a new national park in the Bahamas, an accomplishment she said would never have been possible without the help of the 30 undergraduates who have been involved in this project over the last six years.

“Helping undergraduate students find their passions and launch themselves at the world is my passion, my happy place, and conducting science with them has been one of the biggest joys of my life,” she said. “I haven’t just collected students and their stories, I have collected honorary family members, raising my own children right alongside yours on research boats in the bay and out in wild places.”

2018 December Commencement
@utampaato posted, "Congratulations to brothers Giacomo Mattei and Jacob Lenear for graduating. Good luck lads!" #loveandrespect #ruhrah

Be “shore” of yourself.

“You are the most connected generation yet seen on the planet. Studies show that the best way to change minds and hearts, is to talk to people — not tell them what to do. Ask them, share ideas and move towards solutions,” Masonjones said. “Be honest with yourselves and those around you, give new ideas shared by others a chance, but use evidence and solidly vetted information to make the decisions that matter.”

Brave the depths.

“Confidence comes from knowing what to do and how to handle new situations. We only get that from trying. And failing. And trying again,” Masonjones said. “Facing what scares us dead on, not backing down, and owning that fear until it becomes a manageable part of the background as we move forward towards new challenges — that builds resilience.”


2018 December Commencement
@cheyenneolson posted, “On the first day of Christmas, UT gave to bachelor’s degree✨.”

Alyssa Diane Garcia, who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology, delivered the challenge to the graduating class. She argued that a college education truly is priceless.

“I couldn’t go to the store and pick up the feelings of safety and belonging I felt when this community helped me mourn the loss of my father and grandmother. You couldn’t have placed an Amazon order for the friends sitting next to you right now. We certainly couldn’t pull up to the first window and get a room full of support and love from everyone here,” Garcia said. “No matter how it came to be, we are realizing the dream our younger selves have set for us.”

To see social media images from the December commencement, visit

UT Graduates by the Numbers:

Total graduates = 667
Countries represented = 52
% of graduates from Florida = 48

Undergraduate students
Total bachelor’s degree candidates = 530
Summa cum laude (GPA 4.0) = 2
Magna cum laude (GPA 3.75 or higher, but less than 4.0) = 44
Cum laude (GPA 3.5 or higher, but less than 3.75) = 69
Top 3 most popular undergraduate majors in this class = Finance, Marketing and Management

Graduate students
Total master’s candidates = 137
With honors (GPA 3.9 or higher, but less than 4.0) = 8
With highest honors (GPA 4.0) = 16
MBAs awarded = 48