A Tiger Did The Gator Chomp! 4 Powerful Lessons From My Florida Graduation

You ever hear the saying, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans?”

One of my road assignments as chief sports writer for LSU’s Daily Reveille newspaper was the LSU-Florida game in 2010 – my first trip to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville.

I’ll never forget it. Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Tim Tebow had been drafted by Denver the previous year. That night’s game was still a thriller to cover. The visiting Tigers won, 33-29, on a touchdown pass from Jarrett Lee to Terrence Toliver with six seconds left. I did my duties as a reporter, thinking for sure that was the professional path I’d take.

I did for a while.

Family Photo

But … fast forward 12 years to April 28-29, 2022. I was back in Gainesville again – this time with my parents and husband, attending Florida’s graduation in a master’s hood!

Master of Arts in Mass Communications. Concentration: Public Relations.

Lo and behold, Tim Tebow was commencement weekend speaker. A lot had changed for both of us.

Tebow’s NFL career is over, like my career in sports journalism. Tebow is now a New York Times best-selling author, speaker and expert on living a life of true significance.

Tebow gave a powerful message as I embark on a new chapter in Baton Rouge. I kid you not, my eyes filled with tears as I thought about living a mission-driven life in a new city.

Yes, I went back for my master’s in public relations to expand my knowledge on creating integrated communications campaigns, and I’ve achieved that. But what’s become even more abundantly clear in the past 20 months is how much I want to dig in, build relationships and serve God & others in my next job … and in my daily life.

With that, here are four lessons from from my nearly two years as a Florida Gator.


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1. OWN YOUR VALUES

We live in a world where we’re constantly tempted to compare ourselves to other people. In my opinion, social media only adds fuel to that fire.

Look what they have that I don’t! She’s got a better job than me! Why can’t I have the money or house or clothes or kids that this person has?!

Cue the vicious cycle of impostor syndrome.

My devotional journal helps bring me back to center. Today’s reflection was on Romans 12. We read in verses 4-5, Just as each of us has various parts in one body, and the parts do not all have the same function: in the same way, all of us, though there are so many of us, make up one body in Christ, and as different parts we are all joined to one another.”

What is the message here? We shouldn’t try to be something we aren’t. God created each of us uniquely, and He’s given us permission to own our values.

Each one of us, from you and me to Tim Tebow, has a story – I’m a woman from Louisiana who’s married and has epilepsy. I dream of raising a faith-filled family and using my master’s in communication to serve a Catholic school or nonprofit organization. Most of all, I just want to get up every day & help others.

Remember, God won’t bless a pretend-version of ourselves. Write down your values if you need to. I did!

2. MEET NEW PEOPLE

Photo by Robert Smith (left)

One of my favorite parts of graduate school was my classes that met live online.

Connecting with students and professors enhanced the learning experience much more than just listening to recorded lectures. The education I gained at Florida was tremendous; I’m only emphasizing how much I enjoyed the classes that included additional live meetings.

For me, those were two electives: Branding Using Social & Mobile Media and Seminar in Mass Communication Teaching, taught by Brianne Fleming and Cheryl Oberlin, respectively.

I also talked regularly with students and my professor in Capstone in Public Relations. So close to the finish line, we were determined to dot every i and cross every t in our final projects! My Capstone professor, Rick Holberg, was an incredible resource and reference in the field.

You can see a group of us was even able to connect at graduation and celebrate our achievement!

We should always be looking to expand our networks, meet new people and share ideas.

Volunteer. Don’t be afraid to get in the room you want to be in. Thankfully, the world is opening up again post-COVID-19 isolation. I can’t wait to find my community in Baton Rouge.

While it’s important to be confident in your own core values (see #1), it’s also important to have conversations with others and consider differing perspectives. We never know what doors certain relationships (like graduate school alumni, for example) might open in the future.

3. PERSEVERE

These next two go hand in hand. We all face some downright terrible events in our lives – death, natural disasters, tough days at work, struggling to find work, whatever the case may be.

When I think back to my first day of graduate school August 31, 2020, I had to summon perseverance. Hurricane Laura had just wrecked Lake Charles, where we lived at the time, and knocked out power and water. I felt blessed when I saw our house suffered only minor damage compared to others.

Thank God for generators.

Schoolwork was a welcome distraction amid the destruction around us. Did I mention I took three classes my first semester? I had way too much to dive into!

Navigating Hurricane Laura in my first semester set the tone for the perseverance we’d need in the coming months. Lake Charles was about to face a multitude of weather events – Hurricane Delta, a February ice storm, the May 2021 flood, and even an EF-3 tornado about a mile from our house in October.

We tried to pull some good from these tragedies. My husband fixed fences in our neighborhood, and I found inspiration for my graduate school portfolio from Louisiana Catholic schools coming together in the hurricane aftermath.

As we read in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all this through Christ who gives me strength.”

That brings me to #4.

4. HAVE FAITH

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Tim Tebow was a big reason why I couldn’t wait to attend graduation weekend in Gainesville.

Yes, the pomp & circumstance of wearing my master’s regalia, crossing the stage, and walking onto Ben Hill Griffin Stadium field Friday night was awesome, but Tebow’s message to us – the graduates – about having the courage to live for significance, not personal success, was exactly what I needed to hear.

I mean, exactly.

I felt tears well up in my eyes as he spoke about how each of us was created in the image of God for a purpose! Tebow had such courage and fearlessness. Nothing held him back.

I pride myself on having a strong faith, but I know it can always be stronger.

Tebow writes in his newest book, Mission Possible, “You may not win a popularity contest by being mission driven, but you’ll certainly gain the favor of your Father in heaven. And isn’t that what counts?”

I’ll be first in line to raise my hand yes.


YOUR TURN

Let me know in the comments below:

  • Which of the four lessons hit home for you?
  • Did you watch Tebow’s speech? Bill Heavener introduces him as “a fighter for those who can’t fight for themselves.” Inspiration at the highest level!

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