Gov. Bush, Forrest Sawyer speak at event

Gov. Jeb Bush speaks Friday at the University of Florida's 150th Celebration Convocation at the University Auditorium.

MICHAEL C. WEIMAR/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, January 11, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 11, 2003 at 12:42 a.m.

You only turn 150 once. So why not stretch that celebration over a whole year?

The University of Florida used Friday as the inaugural day for a year of festivities and events that reflect the theme of UF's journey from "humble beginnings" to one of the country's leading public universities.

At the afternoon 150th Anniversary Celebration Convocation, considered the opening ceremony for the celebration, UF President Charles Young presided over a set of several greetings and remarks and speeches before a well-dressed audience that nearly filled the University Auditorium. The notables who sat on the stage represented bodies such as the student body, the Board of Governors and the UF board of trustees.

Gov. Jeb Bush was the headliner, emphasizing in his speech that Florida's history is too often brushed aside.

"One of the ways we instill pride in the state" is by recognizing its history, he said.

"If there's any institution that deserves that (recognition), it's this one," Bush said. "That's why I'm here - to pay tribute to this great university's history."

UF opened at its current site in Gainesville in 1906 with only 102 students. Today, its graduate and undergraduate student body numbers more than 460 times that many, and UF has positioned itself as a school that attracts distinguished researchers and teaching faculty and many of the state's and nation's top scholars.

Earlier Friday, Young also led the official dedication ceremony for the three-story multi-purpose Emerson Alumni Hall. Several university officials took the stage to praise Bill and Jane Emerson of St. Petersburg, the principal donors to the building project, and who played a big part in UF's first capital fund-raising campaign in the 1980s.

"I think this is most fitting with the (celebration) theme of `Honoring the Past, Shaping the Future,' " Young said.

"What better way to live out those words than to honor those alumni that have touched this university and the ones that will shape its future."

The first to speak at the convocation was UF board of trustees Chairman Marshall Criser. He addressed Bush directly, saying he was proud to report that UF was successful in responding to "this governor's challenge" to recruit minority students. Criser was referring to Bush's ban on the use of racial preferences for admissions to public universities.

Criser pointed to the recent statistics that show UF ranks No. 3 overall, and No. 1 among all public schools, in recruiting National Achievement Scholars, minority students recognized with high scores on the SAT.

NBC TV journalist Forrest Sawyer, a UF alumnus, also spoke.

UF Faculty Senate Chairwoman Jean Larson, a math professor, drew laughter from the audience when she made light of the university's math in determining how it came to call itself 150 years old.

"Curiously, the 25th anniversary was held in 1931," she said, adding that UF somehow celebrated its 100th anniversary just 22 years later in 1953.

It was during President John J. Tigert's tenure from 1928-1947 that UF began tracing its beginnings to the East Florida Seminary, which opened in Ocala in 1853.

Outside a reception, following the speeches, Gainesville City Commissioner Warren Nielsen sounded a note of caution about how far UF has come as an inhabitant of the city.

Nielsen said many students and the community still operate too independently of each other.

Gainesville lacks the multicultural and eclectic side in its businesses seen in a university town such as Ann Arbor, the home of the University of Michigan, he said.

"In order for the University of Florida to reach the top, we (the community) have to be there with it," he said. "We have to be very complementary of each other," he said.

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