University of South Florida St. Petersburg Campus



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Graduates toast with cider to start off the sunset cruise on Tampa Bay.

SAILebration begins new graduation tradition for St. Petersburg campus students

As part of a new campus tradition, USF St. Petersburg campus Fall 2021 graduates had the opportunity to celebrate earning their college degrees by hopping aboard a sunset cruise for dinner, dancing and remembrances.

For more than three hours on the evening of December 8, students soaked in the picturesque views of Tampa Bay on a StarShip yacht as it sailed from downtown St. Petersburg to the Skyway Bridge and back. Throughout that time, students celebrated their achievements with friends, faculty and USF leadership. 

The sunset sail, dubbed SAILebration, was the first such event, which planners hope will become a part of the campus’ identity.

“Campus traditions are such an important part of the fabric of an institution,” said Amberly Nelson, conference and event planner for the Regional Chancellor’s Office. “Traditions provide a common experience, promote community and build a legacy.”

  • Scenes from a SAILebration. 

  • Scenes from a SAILebration.  

  • Scenes from a SAILebration.  

  •  Scenes from a SAILebration. 

  •  Scenes from a SAILebration. 

For many, the experience was that much more special because of the obstacles overcome, namely, earning a college degree during a global pandemic.

“It was challenging, especially the isolation and disconnection from other people and professors I had formed a bond with,” said Aundrea Blake Taylor, a Fall 2021 graduate and Biology major. “But with anything, you fall into a rhythm with the day to day. And I got better at setting boundaries because of this experience, between my personal and work life.”

The event took place days before the University of South Florida Commencement ceremonies at the Yuengling Center, where students from all three campuses will walk across the stage to receive their degrees. To honor the unique experiences and identities of the USF branch campuses, both the St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee campuses were given the opportunity to hold graduation events to allow students to celebrate with their classmates. 

To select the event, campus staff attended meetings with students to gather ideas and surveyed all graduates. Faculty and staff also provided input.

“During this process, it was clear that the water that surrounds the campus holds special meaning,” Nelson explained. “Therefore, it made perfect sense to celebrate our graduates with a sunset sail. And we hope during this experience on the water, graduates look back to shore and see the campus that provided them with the skills and knowledge to take on their next endeavor.”

The sunset cruise featured bingo, karaoke and a dance floor on the ship’s third floor deck. USF President Rhea Law, USF St. Petersburg campus Regional Chancellor Martin Tadlock, USF St. Petersburg campus Governor Veronica Jimenez and recent alumnae Justice Thornton gave short, inspiring remarks to the graduates.

“Graduates, your options are limitless,” Tadlock said. “Continue to learn, think, make meaning, create, work, persist, contribute to society and leave the world a better place than you found it.  The world desperately needs that from you now more than ever.”

Many of the remarks touched on what a college education provides: not only a degree and qualifications for a career but qualities such as problem solving, curiosity and perseverance. These, Thornton said, will guide current and future graduates as they navigate challenges. 

“Because of my experiences and lessons learned at USF St. Petersburg, I can continue to grow and prosper with confidence because that is what this campus gave me,” Thornton said. “The belief that opportunity is there, but you have to be open and willing to forge your own path, to keep dreaming and being ambitious so that you can continue to find and become who you’re meant to be.”

As the night and the cruise wound down, the realization that graduation had finally arrived set in for some.

“I can tell USF St. Pete definitely put a lot of thought into this entire social event. It feels special,” Taylor said. “I wasn’t getting really choked up and graduation wasn’t sinking in for me up until tonight. It has made it more real.”

  • Scenes from a SAILebration.  

  • Scenes from a SAILebration.  

  • Scenes from a SAILebration.  

  •  Scenes from a SAILebration. 

  •  Scenes from a SAILebration. 

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