“Don’t forget where you came from,” said Bruce Gould the evening of August 1 to a gathering of summer graduates of The Burnett Honors College and their families and professors, “and when you can, give back.”
That’s no platitude coming from Gould. A steadfast friend of the University of Central Florida and a newly appointed member of the UCF Foundation’s board of directors, he has also served and supported Touro Law Center, the NYU School of Law and the Jewish National Fund, and last summer, alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, dedicated the Bruce K. Gould Amphitheater at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem.
After LexisNexis bought the family business, Gould Publications, in 2005, Gould told graduates, he could have simply “enjoyed the fruits of [his] labor.” Yet he chose instead to dedicate himself and his resources to philanthropy. “And that—giving back to some of the things that I believe in—has been the most rewarding thing that I have ever done,” he said.
It was a fitting topic, since the graduates assembled that evening to receive special honors medallions to be worn during commencement are some of the best equipped in the country to follow Gould’s example, to be “counted among those special individuals who have become leaders of distinction,” in the words of Burnett Honors College Dean Alvin Wang.
Take Gabriel Willman, for instance, who spoke to his classmates just before Gould and who had earned not only University Honors but also Honors in the Major in not one but two fields of study—history and political science—and a 3.986 GPA reflecting just a single ‘A-’ in his four years at UCF. Those years weren’t spent in solitary study either; in fact, Willman spent two semesters abroad in Jordan, where he learned Arabic and completed research for his two honors theses: “Degrees of Casualty: An Assessment of Endogenous Contributors to Instability in Jordan, Syria, and Turkey” and “From Pre-Islam to Mandate States: Examining Cultural Imperialism and Cultural Bleed in the Levant.”
After Gould spoke, graduates were called to the stage to be invested by Provost Tony Waldrop with their medallions as the thesis titles of those graduating with Honors in the Major were read aloud. Ranging from an exploration by sociology major Amy Fowler of volunteers’ motivations for working at domestic violence emergency shelters, to a study by molecular and microbiology major Andrew Do of the effects of growth hormone and thyroxine treatment on skeletal muscle tissue in female mice, to a rumination on ethics by psychology major Stephen Oldham, they each suggested not just intelligence but also the maturity and self-discipline required to see through a challenging, year-long independent project.
So by the time Dean Wang concluded the ceremony by telling the college’s graduates that they clearly had the tools, knowledge and intellect to succeed but that they were capable of even more, of truly reaching for the stars, that didn’t sound like a platitude either.