Two VCU graduates stand for a photo at the university's main commencement ceremony May 11 at the Greater Richmond Convention Center.
VCU awarded more than 5,200 degrees and certificates Saturday to nearly 5,000 graduates. (Photo by Kevin Morley, University Marketing)

CoStar Group CEO calls on graduates to ‘turn adversity into strength’

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Andy Florance, CEO and founder of CoStar Group, challenged graduates to turn adversity into strength Saturday at Virginia Commonwealth University’s main commencement ceremony at the Greater Richmond Convention Center.

In his keynote remarks, Florance said he overcame the odds to become a successful business executive: At the age of seven, he was homeless in Richmond and had missed two years of school when Richmond Police took custody of him. By age 12, he was attending a music school in New York City where he studied, performed and earned money for living expenses.

“Ultimately, I think I was lucky to be challenged by adversity,” Florance said. “We all face adversity. Adversity can set you back or it can be channeled as a source of strength and motivation. Your choice.”

Florance encouraged graduates not to be dissuaded by naysayers as they work hard to achieve their dreams. And he told them to look for, respect, and nurture the relationships they need to build their future.   

“Every single one of you has the capacity to achieve greatness,” Florance said. “You have now earned a degree from one of America’s great universities. You should leave here feeling really proud of what you’ve accomplished so far — and optimistic about your future.”   

Florance founded CoStar Group from his dorm room as an undergraduate student at Princeton University. Last year, half a billion people from 70 countries used CoStar Group’s websites to rent, buy, analyze or finance a trillion dollars of real estate. As CEO of CoStar, Florance leads a team of more than 3,700 employees in 100 offices, operating 25 companies, including CoStar,, LoopNet, and Lands of America. 

Florance was awarded the Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, VCU’s highest form of recognition, which acknowledges outstanding contributions to society through scholarship, humanitarianism, science, art and public service. 

2019 VCU Commencement Speaker: Andy Florance

VCU awarded more than 5,200 professional, graduate and undergraduate degrees and certificates Saturday to nearly 5,000 graduates who were recognized at the universitywide ceremony and unit-level ceremonies. With this year's graduating class, VCU now has more than 200,000 alumni. VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., told graduates they are redefining the American dream to truly represent society today. 

“Your scholarship, advocacy and volunteerism are redefining the American Dream to be more inclusive and cognizant that we live in a world that has, thankfully, changed dramatically since writer James Truslow Adams penned the phrase in 1931,” Rao said. “Proof of change taking place is in front of us and VCU is where the redefined American Dream happens.”

VCU May 2019 Commencement - Highlights

Edward A. Wayne medals were awarded to Marsha C. and William “Bill” Ginther and to Paul A. Gross. The Edward A. Wayne Medal was established in 1971 to honor individuals who have made outstanding contributions or provided exemplary services to VCU.

Bill Ginther earned undergraduate and master’s degrees from the VCU School of Business and is a retired corporate executive vice president of SunTrust Bank. He also served on the VCU Board of Visitors from 2010-18, including terms as rector and vice-rector. Marsha Ginther is an artist who works in clay and has been an active volunteer at Massey Cancer Center, specifically on the Women and Wellness Committee. The Ginthers are steering committee members of the “Make It Real Campaign for VCU.” The couple received the Alumni Award for Extraordinary Service in 2016.

Gross, a professor emeritus and former executive-in-residence, served in the College of Health Professions at VCU from 1992-96. He received the college’s Health Administration Lifetime Service Award in 2009. Prior to VCU, Gross had a 30-year career in health administration marked by eight years as president, hospital division and executive vice president of Humana, Inc. and served eight years in the U.S. Navy. Gross holds a master’s degree in health administration from VCU. He received the VCU Alumni Star award in 1989 and the Presidential Medallion for his service to the university. 

The VCU Presidential Medallion, which was established in 1984 to honor the outstanding contributions of members of the university community, went to Francis L. Macrina, Ph.D. Macrina joined VCU as an assistant professor in 1974 and became professor and chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology in 1983. From 1995-97, he served as interim director of Massey Cancer Center. In 1999, he became the founding director of the Philips Institute for Oral Health Research and was designated the Edward Myers Professor in Dentistry in 2000. In 2005, he was appointed vice president for research and innovation, a role he held for more than 13 years.

The VCU Board of Visitors Award, which recognizes an undergraduate student for outstanding academic achievement, leadership and service, went to Sarah S. Izabel, who is working on a Ph.D. in neuroscience by pursuing a double major in biology and psychology. Izabel is a member of the Honors College and serves as the VCU representative to the State Council for Higher Education and adviser for the SCHEV-Senior Vice Provost for Student Affairs Leadership Board. Her long list of honors includes a research award from the National Institutes of Health Undergraduate Scholarship Program and the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences Phi Kappa Phi Scholarship.

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