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USF's 7,000 Graduates Include 81-Year-Old Who Won't Stop Learning

May 3, 2018

Cue "Pomp and Circumstance," as graduation season is once again upon us.

Spring Commencement begins for the University of South Florida Thursday, and by the time Monday night comes around, more than 7,000 students at USF's three campuses will have received their degrees.

That includes the oldest graduate, who's not done learning just yet.

The spring semester's youngest graduate is Ali El-Aboudi, 18, who will receive a bachelor's degree in biomedical sciences.

But John Voelpel, 81, has been pursuing his PhD for 15 years, almost as long as El-Aboudi has been alive.

Voelpel received a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering in 1959 and his law degree in 1972. A thirty-year career practicing environmental law followed before he began seeking a doctorate in philosophy at USF in 2003.

However, that pursuit was delayed when he lost one of his legs in a car accident on May 5, 2006.

Now, almost a dozen years to the day later, he'll finally receive that degree. But Voelpel says this isn't the end of his journey.

"No, it's like the beginning," he said with a laughs. "Because I figure the degree gives me more responsibility than anything else."

"We have a certain obligation to continue questioning, not only our present vocational disciplines, but also that larger community," Voelpel said. "And I would encourage everyone to continue to question -- it's a responsibility, I think. USF has been a wonderful place for me to find answers, and of course, when you find answers, you also always find more questions."

Voelpel added he'll still take classes at USF -- one, to continue learning, two, so he can keep his library privileges.

The ten commencement ceremonies start with Thursday night's event in Tampa, which honors students from USF Health's colleges. There will be six more ceremonies at the USF Sun Dome spread out over Friday and Saturday. USF Tampa will award more than 6,216 degrees this semester.

The action moves to USF St. Petersburg and the Mahaffey Theater for a pair of graduations, featuring 507 new graduates Sunday, and wraps up with a ceremony for 344 graduates from USF Sarasota-Manatee Monday night at the Bradenton Area Convention Center.

This spring semester's graduates come from all fifty states and more than one hundred nations. 240 student veterans will also receive their degrees.

Full commencement schedule (all held at the USF Sun Dome, unless otherwise noted)

  • Thursday, May 3, 6 p.m. ceremony includes bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree candidates from the Colleges of Nursing, Public Health, Pharmacy and the Morsani College of Medicine. Terry Fulmer, an internationally known expert in geriatric nursing, will receive an honorary doctorate of nursing.
  • Friday, May 4, 9 a.m. ceremony includes bachelor’s degree candidates from the College of Arts and Sciences. Dakota Becker-Greene, who will earn dual bachelor’s degrees in biomedical sciences and psychology, will be recognized with the USF Alumni Association’s Outstanding Graduate Award.
  • Friday, May 4, 1:30 p.m. ceremony includes bachelor’s degree candidates from the College of Arts and Sciences.
  • Friday, May 4, 6 p.m. ceremony includes master’s, specialist and doctoral degree candidates from the Colleges of Arts and Sciences, Behavioral and Community Sciences and the Muma College of Business.
  • Saturday, May 5, 9 a.m. ceremony includes bachelor’s degree candidates from the Muma College of Business and the College of Community and Behavioral Sciences.
  • Saturday, May 5, 1:30 p.m. ceremony includes bachelor’s degree candidates from the Colleges of Education, Engineering, The Arts and Undergraduate Studies. Victor Poirier, an internationally recognized innovator, will receive an honorary doctorate of engineering.
  • Saturday, May 5, 6 p.m. ceremony includes master’s, specialist and doctoral degree candidates from the Colleges of Education, Engineering, Marine Science, Graduate Studies, Patel College of Global Sustainability and The Arts. Well-known architect and educator Daniel Libeskind will receive an honorary doctorate of architecture and Dr. Jeffrey Krischer, USF professor and international leader in type 1 diabetes and other autoimmune diseases research, will receive the President’s Global Leadership Award.
  • Sunday, May 6, 1 p.m. ceremony includes bachelor’s and master’s degree candidates from the USF St. Petersburg College of Arts and Sciences. The ceremony will be held at the Mahaffey Theater.
  • Sunday, May 6, 5 p.m. ceremony includes bachelor’s and master’s degree candidates from the USF St. Petersburg Kate Tiedemann College of Business and the College of Education. The ceremony will be held at the Mahaffey Theater.
  • Monday, May 7, 6:30 p.m. ceremony for bachelor’s and master’s degree candidates from USF Sarasota-Manatee. The ceremony will be held at the Bradenton Area Convention Center.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Story updated to correct the oldest graduate's name to "John Voelpel" instead of "James Voelpel."