Tens of thousands of people roared with excitement as Gainesville legend Tim Tebow stepped up to the microphone to address the University of Florida Class of 2022.
For a moment, the atmosphere seemed reminiscent of but an intimate version of a rival SEC home game during the Gator’s 2009 National Championship.
Tebow, the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner, addressed more than 3,000 graduates on the field he once dominated at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Friday night, reminding the sea of caps and black dresses that the evening wasn’t about him.
“Tonight is about you,” he said. “I want you to be encouraged because you have achieved something special.”
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Throughout his address at the university-wide launch event, Tebow graced the crowd with humor, encouragement and emotion.
He shared his experiences in the Philippines where he did humanitarian work, talking about an impoverished and malnourished little boy he saw wearing his football shirt.
“Tears were streaming down my face when I saw this boy,” said Tebow, who received the UF Distinguished Alumnus award before taking the stage.
“I hope you succeed,” he said. “I hope whatever you do, you crush it. But I hope it doesn’t stop at success because you know where success stops… (with) you. But the meaning is about others . Succeed, but also be meaningful.”
People from all over the world filled the stands in support of the promotion.
The graduating class represented six continents, 89 countries and all 50 states, including 794 first-generation college graduates, UF President Kent Fuchs said.
The sisters, Tracy Ruda and Valerie Marvin traveled from out of town to join in this year’s celebration. Rude – from Fort Wayne, Indiana – and Marvin – from Pearland, Texas – said they were thrilled to see their niece finally cross the stage.
Before people were allowed into the stadium for the event, queues formed outside the Lee Chira Family Heisman Plaza, where graduates and family posed in front of bronze statues of Tim Tebow, Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel.
The wait allowed attendees like Rude to wander parts of the scenic UF campus before graduation on the cool, breezy evening.
“The oaks with the moss, the buildings, it’s a beautiful campus,” Rude said.
Raynell Jones, an Alaskan native who earned his master’s degree in forensic science on Friday, said his time at UF was a “great experience.”
Jones’ family was just one of thousands who cheered and cheered in recognition of the milestone as each person walked across the stage.
“As a father of four adult children, I know how important this day is to the families and friends of these graduates,” Fuchs said. “And I want to congratulate and thank the family members and friends here today for your support and dedication to these graduates. We feel your joy and relief.