Auburn alums Rowdy Gaines, Paula Marino to address Auburn spring graduates

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Three-time Olympic Gold Medalist Rowdy Gaines and Southern Company Senior Vice President Paula Marino will address the Auburn University spring 2023 graduates, the university announced today. The Auburn alums will deliver remarks to nearly 5,000 graduates and their families during commencement ceremonies on Friday, May 5, and Saturday, May 6, in Neville Arena.

“Rowdy Gaines and Paula Marino epitomize the qualities we strive to foster in our graduates through their lifelong commitment to hard work and their selfless service,” said Auburn President Christopher B. Roberts. “As we celebrate the accomplishments of our students, I look forward to the wisdom and perspectives they will share with our graduates.”

Rowdy Gaines

A native of Winter Haven, Florida, Gaines began swimming competitively in high school before earning a scholarship to Auburn under legendary coach Richard Quick. While at Auburn, Gaines won the 1980 and 1981 NCAA Championship in the 100m Freestyle and 200m Freestyle and qualified for the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team. The Olympic Boycott of 1980 came during the peak of Gaines’ career, as he was voted World Swimmer of the Year and was expected to win five Olympic gold medals in Moscow.

Gaines earned a bachelor’s degree from Auburn in speech communication in 1981. Following graduation, he went on to compete in the 1984 Olympic Summer Games in Los Angeles, where no swimmer won more races than he did with his three gold medals in the 100M freestyle, the 4x100M freestyle and medley relays. During his career, Gaines broke a total of 14 World Records.

Following his retirement from competitive swimming, Gaines began a successful career in sports broadcasting, serving as NBC’s lead swimming analyst for eight Olympic Games and commentating for CBS, TNT and ESPN. A noted philanthropist and advocate for youth sports, Gaines has served as the outreach director for the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame and works with many charitable organizations including Swim Across America, benefitting research for cancer and the Special Olympics. He also has been inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame and International Swimming Hall of Fame. 

Today, he is vice president of Partnerships and Development for the Pool and Hot Tub Alliance and its philanthropic initiative, Step Into Swim, a program that helps grant swim lessons to disadvantaged youth across the country. Gaines is often referred to as "Swimming’s Greatest Ambassador,” a role that began with his journey to the Plains.

“When I came to Auburn, I had no idea how much this university would impact my life,” Gaines said. “As they prepare to transition from Auburn’s classrooms to the real world, I know our graduates are ready for the challenges that lie ahead thanks to the faculty and staff who have invested in their success, just as they did for me.”

Paula Marino

A 1992 and 1995 Auburn electrical engineering graduate, Marino has provided more than 30 years of leadership to Southern Company, one of the largest energy providers in the United States. As senior vice president, Marino oversees more than $3 billion in construction projects and 1,400 employees responsible for developing new generation and environmental strategy, executing project design and construction, ensuring technology due diligence and supporting the operation and maintenance of the generating fleet.

An honoree of the Alabama Engineering Hall of Fame, Marino is a registered professional engineer in 14 states and is active on various advisory boards, including Auburn University’s Alumni Engineering Council and the Electrical Engineering Industrial Advisory Board and the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering Advisory Board. She also has served on the Electrical Engineering Advisory Boards for Tuskegee University and the University of Alabama.

A staunch advocate for engineering education, particularly for women pursuing engineering, Marino has mentored young engineers through initiatives such as iCan, 100+ Women Strong, Southern Nuclear North American Young Generation in Nuclear, Society of Women Engineers and Women in Generation, an organization which she created. Marino also is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Auburn University ECE Industrial Advisory Board Outstanding Alumni Award, the Engineering Council of Birmingham’s Engineering Leadership Award and Engineer of the Year.

“As an alumna, I know our graduates are leaving Auburn with more than just a world-class education,” Marino said. “They graduate with a shared set of experiences and values defined by the Auburn Creed, which I know sets them apart from other graduates. I look forward to sharing in their day and offering some words of wisdom as they begin their journey as alumni.”

Marino will deliver the commencement address on Friday, May 5, at 5 p.m. to the College of Education and the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering and on May 6 at 8 a.m. to the colleges of Architecture, Design and Construction and Liberal Arts.

Gaines will deliver the commencement address during the May 6 ceremony for the Harbert College of Business (1 p.m.) and the combined ceremony for the colleges of Agriculture; Forestry, Wildlife and Environment; Human Sciences; Nursing; and Sciences and Mathematics (6 p.m.).

Additional information is available on the commencement website, including a live stream link for those unable to attend and the commencement Facebook and Instagram accounts.

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Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification, life-changing outreach with Carnegie’s Community Engagement designation and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn’s commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact.