Donna Deegan tells her story in emotional FSU commencement speech
Image via City of Jacksonville

Donna Deegan
'When you walk out of here tonight, carry love with you.'

Jacksonville Mayor Donna Deegan spoke at Florida State University’s commencement for the colleges of Fine Arts, Communication and Information, Criminology and Criminal Justice, Social Work and Music

She talked about a number of topics, including her family, her time at FSU, her television career, her personal health struggles, her win in the 2023 mayoral race, and Seminoles football coach Mike Norvell.

And along the way, she encouraged recent grads to take a trip east on Interstate 10 and consider Jacksonville for their homes.

Among the ruminations on her family: a discussion of its legacy at FSU, where one of her children followed in her collegiate footsteps, illustrating that despite being platformed to speak, it wasn’t that long ago the Mayor was one of the parents in attendance herself.

“As I look out over this sea of beautiful people, I’m reminded of my son Drew’s graduation back in 2017. I was one of those parents with the cell phone, trying to find him in the crowd. Screaming inappropriately when he crossed the stage and videoing every step. I’m proud to say he’s here with me tonight. And it goes without saying, since my daughter decided to attend college at what I affectionately call ‘the evil empire,’ Drew is in fact my favorite child,” Deegan said, joking about the University of Florida in Gainesville along the way.

The Jacksonville Mayor also discussed her own time in Tallahassee, and how her college career led to her accomplishing her “dream of becoming a broadcast journalist.”

“It was quite the leap, given that I was deathly afraid of public speaking, a hurdle I wasn’t sure I could get over. You see, I always loved journalism, but figured I’d hide behind a headline in the newspaper. It wasn’t until Dr. Sandra Rackley that I truly believed I could conquer my fears and step in front of the camera. You learn who you are when you face adversity, she said. Get past your fear, and everything’s possible.”

(On Sunday, Deegan stressed in comments to Florida Politics that she meant by the “newspaper” line that there were “new opportunities for women in broadcast” and that she saw herself as a “writer at (her) core” who was “not comfortable speaking in front of people” before her time at Florida State.)

She noted that college work led her to covering then-Gov. Bob Graham in Tallahassee, before describing her own cancer journey and dismissing “pundits” who dismissed her chances of becoming Mayor even though she led in all public polling of the race.

“Last year, believing I could help more people if I could influence public policy, I ran for Mayor of Jacksonville. My platform was ‘change for good’ and built on a message of unity. True to my promise I didn’t run one negative ad. I just couldn’t see how tearing our community apart could ever move us forward. Some of my consultants thought it a flawed strategy. The pundits gave me no serious shot to win. But on May 16th people from across the political spectrum swept me into office and on July 1st I was sworn in as the first female Mayor of the 10th largest city in the country.”

Deegan also referenced the man who brought the Seminoles football program back to relevance nationally also.

“It takes a great deal of practice, a gratitude for everything that comes. But to be unconquered doesn’t mean to always get what we want, Coach Norvell could host a clinic on that – to be unconquered means to ultimately embrace what we get.”

Additionally, she urged graduates to “consider Jacksonville when you’re looking for a place to set down roots.”

“I am working every day to make it a destination city that new graduates will be proud to call home, and I could use a lot more garnet and gold in my life.”

Finally, she closed on an aspirational note.

“When you walk out of here tonight, carry love with you. Fear is a liar meant to keep you down. And no matter what may come your way, instead of judging it, just stay curious. The unconquered spirit will light your path.”

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski


  • Elvis Pitts "AMERICA'S BIG VOICE ON THE RIGHT" American

    May 4, 2024 at 8:16 pm

    Still running that out of focus stern looking worn-out pic of Earl’s Favy Fave Donna …. I thought we had a deal to start replacing that disgraceful pic of Queen DD with any of her many increadably “HOTTY-HOT” pics on file.
    Lets all agree to agree to put that out-of-focus ugly pic in “The Delete File” and begin posting one of DD’s totally Hot MlIF pics with each subesequant DD artical ” Now & Forever More”.
    Thank you,
    Elivis Pitts American

    • Elvis Pitts "AMERICA'S BIG VOICE ON THE RIGHT" American

      May 4, 2024 at 8:17 pm


      • Mark

        May 5, 2024 at 2:50 am

        Yeah, and you’re such a hot commodity.

  • Dr. Juan P. Gray

    May 5, 2024 at 3:34 pm


    • Elvis Pitts "AMERICA'S BIG VOICE ON THE RIGHT" American

      May 5, 2024 at 6:30 pm

      Dr. JUAN, I, Elvis Pitts American, can-not disagree with any of your Sage Statements of Wisdom above.
      That being said, my man Juan, D. D. is a Totally Hot MlLF ….
      Undeniable True Word. And my Main Man, Juan, us Manly Men, deserve better than that out of focus “Angry Donna” pic which has been ran with each and every DD artical over and over again.
      DR. Juan and I, Elvis Pitts Anerican, Demand Totally Hotty Hot MlLF pics be featured with all subsequant DD articals HENCEFORTH.
      Dr. Juan and his Besty, Elvis Pitts American HAVE SPOKEN!!!!

  • the Truth

    May 6, 2024 at 8:48 am

    she talks about Unity, then removes a monument to the Women of the South, many many people did not like that, she is a one term mayor

    • MH/Duuuval

      May 6, 2024 at 9:33 am

      You are repeating yourself, and this after saying you were over it.

  • Fake words

    May 6, 2024 at 10:31 am

    I don’t trust politicians who use pretty words like “love” and “unity” to cover up their own crony behaviour and the fact they do not have the backs of tax payers and apparently can’t do math. Jacksonville is drowning in pension debt and unfunded liabilities, the schools are falling apart, the taxes are already too high, and she hasn’t fulfilled her campaign promises she made about focusing on neighbourhoods, fixing infrastructure, back to basics, climate resiliency, etc. The whole term is going to be about the stadium, which is public taxpayer funds to pay for borrowed money to enrich a billionaire for a privately owned stadium with the city footing the bill. That sucks the oxygen out of literally everything else the city needs, that taxpayers pay for. And there won’t even be a referendum. It’s a closed process with no transparency. Spineless city council in collusion. The whole thing stinks. I do not see “love” or “unity”, or listening to taxpayers and responding to real needs. I see a lot of entitlement and lack of accountability.
    My advice to graduating students would be to stay away from a city where government repeatedly fails its citizens yet somehow continues to raise taxes, where they don’t listen or care about neighbourhoods but just sell out to developers on the taxpayer dime, where everything is overvalued except the input of real citizens and what actually matters to most people (paying city bills, low crime, affordability, cleanliness, infrastructure, smart government, fair taxes, good schools). But oh yeah, there’s “love” all right. Too much self-love if you ask me.

  • MH/Duuuval

    May 6, 2024 at 12:41 pm

    “Jacksonville is drowning in pension debt and unfunded liabilities, the schools are falling apart, the taxes are already too high, and she hasn’t fulfilled her campaign promises she made …”

    You must be thinking of Wonder Woman whereas DD is simply a bright, thoughtful native who has been battered about the head by situations she inherited.

    As for the stadium to be built by taxpayers: No, I don’t like it and, in another world, the public would have the opportunity to vote on the subject. Any chance the good ol’ MAGAs on the Council will put this forward?

  • the Truth

    May 6, 2024 at 11:19 pm

    Deegan will go down as one of the dumbest Mayor’s in Jacksonville’s history, a one termer.. Jacksonville is going broke, and she wants a new stadium, ha ha

  • rick whitaker

    May 7, 2024 at 12:18 am

    THE TRUTH, are you talking about the statute of the losing terrorist’ of the southern racist states that tried to pull a coup, and ended up killing thousands of americans for terrorist’ causes? trash that piece of racist crap.

Comments are closed.


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