A new path may lead to wonderful possibilities


College is where you find your life passion and follow your dreams. Unfortunately, after 42 years as a university student, professor and administrator, I haven’t yet discovered my life passion, and I’m not following a dream.

I shared my life predicament during Summer commencement in August, and many students and families have since told me they appreciated hearing that my life journey is similar to theirs. At the risk of boring those who have memorized my commencement speeches, I want to share a few points made at Summer graduation.

What if, despite spending years earning your valuable UF degree, you’re still not quite sure about your passion or your dreams keep changing? What if, when you listen to your inner voice, you don’t hear anything?

It is OK. More than OK. In fact, it may even be preferable not to hear voices.

Uncertainty in our lives and in our careers is good, whether we work in science, the arts...and yes, even higher education leadership. I’ve learned to start down any one of the several good paths before me and let my journey reveal my direction and shape my dreams.

I come to this advice from my personal experience. Like most UF students, I changed my major while in college and ended up with a degree in engineering. However, when it came time for graduation, I didn’t want to be an engineer — I wanted to be a pastor in a church.

I pursued a three-year master’s degree in divinity school. In my second year, I took a homiletics class on the art of writing and preaching sermons. It didn’t go so well. What I learned was this: I was not very good at reaching people’s hearts, but I could reach their minds. I was a better teacher than I was a preacher.

I decided I would be a college teacher, so for five more years I pursued graduate studies in electrical and computer engineering, and I eventually became a university professor.

During my years as a professor, I knew for certain I would never be a university administrator. I only wanted to teach students and work in my lab. I rejected opportunities to serve as department chair but then changed my mind and became a chair.

For years, I then promised myself and everyone around me I would never be a dean — but indeed again I changed my mind and became a dean and later a provost. As recently as two years ago, I publicly proclaimed I would never be interested in serving as a university president.

I have found over the past 42 years of university studies and my career that uncertainty in the future has been the best part of my life’s path. My path has been richer and more meaningful than what I would have planned. I didn’t have a dream or a passion that I followed. Rather, my dreams and passions emerged and developed with my opportunities and actions.

I have the utmost respect and admiration for those whose life paths are straight and sure. But zigging this way and then zagging that way is the more common path — and often the zigging and zagging is the better path. I am a better person and a better president due to the lack of a clear, straight vision for my studies and career.

As you study at UF and then launch into a world of constantly evolving challenges and opportunities, whenever your inner voice changes things up on you — or worse, when it doesn’t seem to say anything at all — I hope you hear my voice: Let your dreams and passions follow you.

Godspeed as you move forward in your studies and plans for a career — eyes and hearts open to your changing path and its many wonderful possibilities.