duane_thomas_web.jpgMIAMI GARDENS — When Duane Thomas moved to the Miami area from Trinidad and Tobago to attend Florida Memorial University, he found that adjusting to college life in the U.S. was tough his first semester of the four-year-program.

It was different Saturday when Thomas, 21, and fellow students from FMU’s aviation program walked across the stage to receive their degrees during the university’s Spring Commencement.

“It was euphoric,” Thomas said.

Gabrielle Bishop, 28, who spent two years at FMU to complete her university studies, graduated with a bachelor’s in biology.

“I feel wonderful,” said Bishop, daughter of South Florida Times columnist the Rev. R. Joaquin Willis. “It is a milestone in my life that I am glad I accomplished.”

FMU President Henry Lewis III challenged Bishop and Thomas and the rest of the class of 2012 to make good use of their educational investment by becoming agents of positive change in their professional lives.

“I charge you to commit to excellence in everything you do,” Lewis told the graduates during the ceremony. They should, he said, aim for “exceptional excellence at all times.”

Lewis told the  South Florida Times that the commencement was a “tremendous success” and that the school was proud to award Miami-Dade County Commissioner Barbara Jordan an honorary doctorate in humane letters.

“She is a fighter for this community and a supporter of Florida Memorial University,” Lewis said. “She is more than deserving of the honorary doctorate.”

Jordan, who gave the commencement address, told the students they were standing “at the threshold of your lives armed with what this university has given you.”

“As you leave this experience behind, you have been given most of the tools you need to leave your mark on this planet.  Take note of the fact that I said ‘most’ of the tools you will need for the rest is up to you,” she said.

Photo: Duane Thomas