When Beatriz Machado crossed the stage at graduation and caught glimpse of her family holding a bright yellow sign for her from the bleachers, she broke down crying.
“I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is happening and the most important people are here with me, and they’re watching it live,’” she said, wiping tears from her eyes moments after getting off stage. “I’m just happy, really happy.”
Machado, 21, received a bachelor’s in electrical engineering on Saturday morning at Florida International University’s inaugural commencement ceremony for the spring semester.
The largest public school in South Florida will award more than 7,000 degrees this weekend — about 5,400 bachelor’s, 1,100 master’s, 20 specialists and 400 PhDs. Last spring, FIU granted about 6,500 degrees.
FIU expected 4,600 graduates and more than 34,600 guests in total to attend the six in-person events held at FIU Stadium on the main Modesto A. Maidique campus in West Miami-Dade on Saturday and Sunday, FIU spokeswoman Madeline Baro said on Friday. Despite the rain forecasts, FIU won’t cancel any gathering unless lightning occurs.
Machado, a native from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, moved to Florida at 14 and enrolled at Montverde Academy, an Orlando boarding high school.
“It’s been tough. It’s been seven years away from everyone. This feels like the efforts paid off,” said Machado, who signed a contract to work for BTG Pactual, a financial company, two days before graduating.
Because of COVID-19-related travel restrictions between Brazil and the United States, seeing her uncle, mom and cousin in the audience felt special, she said. On her way back to her seat, Machado jumped, waved and flashed a heart with both of her hands.
Her loved ones lifted the poster they brought, which read in capitalized blue letters drawn out of glitter:
“The achievement is yours, but the pride is ours. It was worth all the effort, dedication and moments apart. We are here for you, and with you because we love you.”
No keynote speakers, no ‘OK’ roles
The ceremonies won’t include any keynote speakers. During the Saturday morning one, FIU Interim President Kenneth Jessell delivered some remarks for the graduates instead.
“Class of 2022, now more than ever, you can and should make a difference,” Jessell told them. “This world is in need of your passion, knowledge and commitment.”
The graduates, who vacillated between unpacking their ponchos as the dark clouds above threatened to wash down over them, and guzzling cold water bottles as they fanned themselves to seek relief from the scorching sun, cheered back.
For some, the message about changing their life and others’ lives resonates.
Jephery Francis, 29, completed a master’s in public administration at FIU this spring. Now he feels ready to put into action what he learned.
“I didn’t go back to school to get an OK role next,” he said. “I know I’m going to be a new leader soon. My plans are to advance and get to that next level.”
Francis, a Miami Gardens local, first graduated from Florida State University in Tallahassee with a bachelor’s in business management in 2015. At the onset of the pandemic, he pursued a bachelor’s in public administration from FIU, then his master’s.
While studying full-time at FIU, Francis also worked full-time at The Miami Foundation and managed two businesses he co-owns, a yacht brokerage and a car rental.
“I feel amazing,” he said. “It definitely feels like a big weight lifted off my shoulders.”
He sacrificed a lot of birthday celebrations and weekend brunches in lieu of writing assignments and watching lectures for his online courses. And he’s grateful for FIU’s professors and staff who helped him, he said.
“The program was amazing. I would recommend it to everyone — full-time or part-time,” he said. “It’s definitely made for adults who want to go back to school and continue their education. A lot of time folks say like, ‘Oh I don’t have time,’ but I had classmates that had kids and that were further in their careers and they were all able to make it work.”
This story was originally published April 30, 2022 2:43 PM.