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MIAMI (CBSMiami) — It was a proud night for more than 300 Miami Dade College’s top students. It was also a busy day for their keynote speaker – Secretary Of State John Kerry, who continues dealing with the Cuba-Carnival controversy.

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The honors college students waited excitedly to be recognized for their hard work at a special ceremony inside Miami’s symbolic Freedom Tower on Thursday evening. And they excitedly waited for Secretary Kerry to address them, giving him a standing ovation as he took the stage.

“You should be very, very proud,” Kerry said to the crowd of students and parents.

Secretary Kerry was in Miami for the afternoon.

First he stopped at a passport agency on Biscayne Boulevard to meet with Department of State staff.

The secretary then met with local Cuban-American leaders to talk about the diplomatic re-engagement with Cuba and the push for changes, including more access to the information and economic opportunity.

Earlier on CNN en Español, Kerry criticized Cuba for its policy not allowing Americans born on the island to travel there on Carnival Cruise Line’s upcoming trips – and Carnival for going along with that policy.

“We should not be in a situation where the Cuban government is forcing its discrimination policy on us,” he said.

“What about Carnival? Should they wait?” the CNN reporter asked.

“Carnival needs to not discriminate,” he responded.

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Just hours after that statement, Kerry backtracked.

A spokesperson released a statement, which read:

“Secretary Kerry in no way meant to convey that Carnival is supporting policies that are discriminating against Cuban-American travelers.”

Back inside the iconic Freedom Tower, Secretary Kerry told the top students they were an integral part of the school’s excellence and diversity. Miami Dade College is the largest institution of higher education in Florida and second largest in the country.

“Don’t let anyone undermine your faith in the American dream,” KERRY SAID.  “Because make no mistake.  That dream begins with diversity.  The student body of this college is a living demonstration.”

Before wrapping up his 30 minute speech, Secretary Kerry added, “All of you who we honor here today are here because you have shown willingness and a commitment to try to demand the best from yourselves and thereby to take that first giant step toward what you will need.  And frankly, never stop working for what you want.”

First-year honors college student Eric Ramputh introduced the secretary of state to the crowd.

He later told CBS4 Donna Rapado he was thrilled to have been chosen.

“The opportunity to introduce America’s top diplomat is an incredible honor and incredibly humbling,” he said.

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“He ended his conversation with the Nelson Mandela quote which says it always seems impossible until it’s done,” said first-year student Ambar Miniel. “So I loved that and I’m so impacted by what he said.”