A Gator Standout Graduates

More than 2,000 UF seniors are set to graduate this week, including swimming standout and outstanding student leader Gemma Spofforth of Britain.

By Karen Sullivan (3JM)
UF News Bureau

in the pool

During her time at UF, Gemma Spofforth did more than set world records and lead her team to a national championship. She also became a crisis center volunteer to help deal with the loss of her mother to cancer. Photo by Jim Burgess (BEE '63)

When Gemma Spofforth (4ALS) came to the University of Florida in the fall of 2006 to swim, her career goals were still undecided.

But on Dec. 18, Spofforth will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in family, youth and community sciences and plans to attend graduate school for counselor education after competing in the 2012 London Olympics.

In her time at UF, the British athlete became one of the most decorated swimmers in school history while coping with a personal loss that resulted in her career interest.

Among her athletic accomplishments, Spofforth is an 18-time All-American, a seven-time National Collegiate Athletic Association champion and a double European champion. She has been captain of the swim team since 2008, leading her teammates to the NCAA National Championship in 2010.

“The coaches here have been amazing and have really helped me excel to where I am now,” she said. “I don’t think I could have asked for a better atmosphere.”

But after first coming to UF, Spofforth experienced culture shock and was adapting to the new life she had made at UF. A year later, her mother died of cancer.

“Although I had a lot of friends here and I considered my coaches and swimming family to be my family, I suppressed my depression and tried hard to hide it from every one of my friends. I would cry during practice and cry through the night,” she said. “A lot of my friends didn’t understand what I needed or couldn’t figure out how to be around me or what to say.”

Instead of continuing to be depressed, Spofforth began volunteering at the Alachua County Crisis Center.

While training 24 hours each week, she has also dedicated much of her free time to volunteering as an associate and certified phone line counselor at the crisis center. Since the fall of 2009, Spofforth has worked with suicidal clients to address their emotional needs.

She said one of her proudest achievements in Gainesville, aside from captaining the national champion swim team, was graduating from working the phones at the crisis center to begin meeting with clients face-to-face.

“The crisis center has really changed my life,” she said. “There are so many skills that I learned, especially empathy skills that have allowed me to help myself and others. My motto is that you should try to understand people instead of judging them because you never know what kind of day they may be having.”

After graduation, Spofforth will continue to train in Gainesville until the Olympics in August 2012, when she hopes to swim for the British national team once again. She will also dedicate more time to working at the crisis center.

Graduation Ceremonies

Spofforth is among 1,916 students expected to receive bachelor’s degrees from UF this fall. Two ceremonies, at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Dec. 18, will be held for undergraduate degrees at the O’Connell Center. The professional degree ceremony for the College of Pharmacy will take place at 10 a.m. Saturday at the HPNP Auditorium.

A ceremony for the 1,398 students receiving advanced degrees will be held at 4 p.m. Dec. 17 at the O’Connell Center.

Based on regalia orders as of Wednesday, 2,051 graduates will participate in the commencement ceremonies.

Spofforth will be named an outstanding student leader, along with Julie Dumbroff* (4LAS) and Ashley Kerr* (4BA).

Lauren N. Gispanski* (4JM) and Dumbroff will be recognized as outstanding four-year scholars, and Anthony F. Margalis Jr.* (4BA) and Michael B. Rodgers (5Eng) will be recognized as outstanding two-year scholars.

UF will also recognize Joseph Balchunas of Broward County, Linda Basford of Jackson County, Leanne Criscitiello of Gilchrist County, Kelly A. Conway of Volusia County and JoAnn Winkler of Charlotte County as distinguished educators.

*UF Alumni Association member

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Looking for Graduation Information?

For a guide to this week’s commencement, and a schedule of future ceremonies, visit UF’s Commencement website.

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