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Olympian tells University of Arkansas graduates: ‘Aim high’

Alum, gold medalist delivers UA commencement address by Ryan Anderson | May 14, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.
Kennedy Fuller (right) receives her degree on Saturday May 13 2023 at University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, commencement. Go to for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)

FAYETTEVILLE -- It's imperative to "aim high" and "step into your calling with relentless passion," Olympic gold medalist Veronica Campbell Brown told University of Arkansas, Fayetteville graduates during commencement Saturday.

Set "audacious goals," and be impactful in "whatever you pursue," said Campbell Brown, who received an honorary degree from the university and delivered the all-university commencement address for graduate students inside Bud Walton Arena. "Positive thinking is a necessity, and don't be discouraged by failure."

As they enter the "real world," graduates no doubt will face challenges, and -- at times -- want to give up, but the fact that these students have achieved graduate degrees is a testament to their resilience, she said. "You are not only dreamers, but doers."

Challenges are a given, but there is opportunity in every challenge, and an education from UA-Fayetteville has prepared graduates to have successful lives, said University of Arkansas System President Donald Bobbitt. "The knowledge and experience you've gained here will carry you forward."

Commencement is a momentous occasion not only for each graduate, but for the university, as it's the culmination of all the hard work by students and faculty, Bobbitt added. "My challenge to you is to meet the moment with a keen eye for opportunity."

From "humble beginnings," Campbell Brown saw that opportunity through running, she said. Though her parents could never have paid to send her to college, "sprinting was my gateway to a better future, and I embraced it," and she encouraged graduates to likewise embrace their gifts, talents, and abilities.

"See failure as something to learn from -- a great teacher -- [and] appreciate its benefits," she told graduates. "Aim high, and sew quality seeds."

Campbell Brown, who won three gold medals, three silver medals, and two bronze medals across five Olympic games competing for Jamaica, graduated from the Sam M. Walton College of Business in 2006 and won the 200-meter sprint at the 2004 NCAA Indoor Championships, setting a new collegiate record and earning All-American accolades, according to John Thomas, the university's director of media relations and core communication.

In 2007, she married Omar Brown, a fellow UA-Fayetteville alumnus and sprinter from Jamaica, and she's been inducted into the university's sports Hall of Honor and the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.

In the World Championships, she earned five gold medals, seven silver, and one bronze, according to Thomas. She is the second of three athletes who have won the 200-meter dash in two consecutive Olympiads.

On her initial visit to Fayetteville, it was "love at first sight," as the "picturesque" setting reminded her a bit of her childhood home in Jamaica, she said. She was also inspired by the "winning culture and high-performance mindset" pervasive on campus, not only among student-athletes, but with the general student body, faculty and staff.

The first college graduate in her family, she has "fond memories" of her time in Fayetteville, and was "delighted to be back on campus," she said. She's also "deeply honored" not only to address graduates, but to receive an honorary doctorate of humane letters from her alma mater.

Honorary degrees are reserved for those who have achieved grand distinction and are exceptional individuals, with Campbell Brown qualifying on both counts, said Chancellor Charles Robinson. She's the most-decorated Olympian affiliated with the state, an all-time great Razorback athlete, and she's honored both the university and the state with her words and actions.

She's an entrepreneur, motivational speaker, author, philanthropist, mother of two and former UNESCO ambassador who chairs the Veronica Campbell Brown Foundation, which she founded with the core mission of assisting young girls lacking the necessary resources to obtain a high school education, according to Thomas. She launched VCB FIT, an online activewear brand with the vision of providing women with functional products and inspiring them to maintain healthy and active lifestyles.

Though thunderstorms greeted graduates Saturday morning, Robinson evoked The Temptations song "My Girl," noting that this commencement is providing "sunshine on a cloudy day."

"This is a great day and a satisfying event," Robinson said. These graduates "have it going on, and I came here to make sure you know it."

He also reminded graduates that while advanced degrees often equate to more earning potential, it's the "knowledge" they've gained in school that makes them truly special, not money.

"Make bankroll and change lives," he said. Demonstrate the full story of "who you are -- and why."

This year's commencement is the first presided over by Robinson as the official chancellor of the university, although he was interim chancellor for more than a year before the University of Arkansas System trustees selected him as the university's next chancellor in November 2022. Next year's commencement is currently scheduled for May 10-11.

The J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences and Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food, and Life Sciences celebrated graduation Friday, while the College of Engineering, Walton College of Business, Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design, and College of Education and Health Professions also had commencement Saturday. The law school will have graduation next Saturday.

Though the exact number of graduates won't be official until final grades are in and confirmed by the registrar's office, the total number of students "walking" during commencement this semester is 4,374, with 1,009 in the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, 595 graduate students (99 doctoral); 384 in the College of Engineering; 300 in the Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food & Life Sciences; 1,243 in the College of Business; 117 in the Fay Jones School; 587 in the College of Education and Health Professions; and 117 in the law school, according to Thomas.

  photo  Margaret Molli waves on Saturday May 13 2023 to well-wishers in the audience before the start of University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, commencement at Bud Walton Arena. Go to photos for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
  photo  Veronica Cambell-Brown, University of Arkansas alumni, Olympic gold medalist and Razorbacks athlete, receives an honorary degree on Saturday May 13 2023 from UA Chancellor Dr. Charles Robinson during University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, commencement at Bud Walton Arena. Go to for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)
  photo  Several graduates decorated their mortarboards for University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, commencement held Saturday May 13 2023 at Bud Walton Arena. Go to for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)

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