State of the University Address, Sep. 28, 2017

"Take the education we gave you and make it count."

Spring 2017 Commencement Address

We’re celebrating transformations this year and commencement is an appropriate time for that. While most of our time today will be spent applauding the educational accomplishments of our graduates, I wanted to take a moment to mark another milestone for UWF.

On February 1, two very special friends of UWF decided to give back to the community by making a transformational gift in excess of $5 million to one of our colleges. That gift led to the second named college in our history, the Usha Kundu MD College of Health.

A named college distinguishes it as one that has been given private resources that allow it to achieve excellence and expand its programs. Thank you to Dr. Usha and Mahadeb Kundu for their generous support of UWF.

Now, if you would please join me in recognizing our platform party – first would the members of UWF’s Board of Trustees please stand? And then our Leadership Team headed by Interim Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs, Dr. George Ellenberg.

It is a pleasure to see you all here today, and in the case of some of you, I must say, it’s a delightful surprise. And look at you – all tricked out in silken robes and finery with colorful accessories and trinkets adorning you from head to toe. The faculty and staff join me in saying we are pleased as punch to see you here today because, like all craftsmen who love their finished products, we love you. And we hope, just maybe, you love us a little in return.

This is the last time we’re going to meet like this because today marks an interesting turn of events. After four years or so of this university influencing a large portion of your lives, you are now moving into a sector in which you will be influencing ours. But more about that later.

Today, it is too late for me to encourage you to study hard, to keep up with your reading, and to organize your time well. 

And it is probably too soon for me to ask you for money. I certainly will not urge you to continue to be a lifelong lover of learning because if I have to do that at this late date, I would be admitting that we failed you – and that would be too much of a downer for today.

Fifty years ago, in the fall of 1967, the University of West Florida opened its doors and classes began. About 1,200 students made up the first class. We graduated 58 students that first year. After today, that number will have grown to more than 81,000.

A 50-year anniversary is kind of a big deal for a university. At this point in our development, we have seen a lot of change – changes in leadership, changes in programming, changes in governance, and changes in funding structures. We have seen good times; we have seen not so good times…but mostly we have seen great progress.

So we are celebrating it all with you today.

Our 50th anniversary theme is Sea Change, and I think that is aptly named. By definition, a Sea Change is a time of transformation and growth.

By this point in your lives, you have experienced a number of transformations. You have transformed physically from a child to an adult. You may have become adept at a skill, like playing a musical instrument or a sport, or you may have become a parent. But at the end of this ceremony, you will experience a different transformation. Today, you all will become alumni of the University of West Florida. 

The Latin noun alumnus means foster child or pupil and is derived from the verb alere “to nourish.” That closely describes the relationship we have had with you – as quasi-parents providing the nourishment of thought and knowledge.

Unlike some other changes in your life, this one from student to alum is permanent. You and this university are from this day forth inextricably bound to each other. You can change your address, you can change your name, you can change your marital status and you can change your hair color, but you can never change your alma mater. For as long as you have a resume, we will be there.

So what does this mean? It means in many ways our fortunes are tied to one another. If the university thrives and earns positive attention, that will reflect well on you as a product of the university. If you do well and attract positive attention, it reflects well on the university. It’s that simple. 

So how does this new-found indelible relationship work?

Like any relationship, it’s a two-way street. For our part, UWF has a responsibility for continuous improvement. Our academic programs should be superior in every way with up-to-date curriculum and top faculty who have the right tools to do their work. Our graduates should be well received in the workplace because of the abilities honed throughout the educational process. They should be a cut above others because of the high impact programming they benefitted from. Every care should be taken to ensure their money is well-invested and not a single day or dollar is wasted. Most of all, our students (alumni to be) should feel like they are part of something big and that they are important members of the UWF community of learners.

As for you, our newly anointed alumni, your task is simple: 

Take the education we gave you here and make it count. 

As alumni, you are part of a powerful lobby. The Argo nation has a voice, and as it grows, that voice will become louder and more influential. As people with an indelible interest in the university, you can shape attitudes, programming, funding, and the future of the institution. 

Keep in mind, the university’s reputation is your reputation. Support your alma mater in any way you can. Specifically, give back to the department that houses your chosen field, to ensure the quality of people who will call themselves your peers.

Stay networked with us through social media such as LinkedIn. The goodwill you generate as a supporter not just of UWF but of its graduates – people like you – has the power to lift us all.

Give back. As products of a public university, you have received your education on the backs of people who never had the chance. You are standing on the shoulders of people who wanted better for their children. You received scholarships from strangers who care about education. You worked in labs donated by businesses that care about the future of your profession. There is a debt to be paid. Pay it forward as freely and as generously as it was given to you.

So, a good commencement address isn’t complete without a bit of advice, and here is mine: As you move through a rapidly changing world, you will make countless decisions that will have an immediate impact on your life and the lives of others. Some will turn out well. Some won’t. Make decisions based on the best information you can find. Use the brain God gave you and the education you have earned. That is all any of us can do. The answers are almost never clear, and self-doubt can be paralyzing. Do your best then. Press on. 

I’ll close by slightly paraphrasing the words of E.L. Doctorow: [Life is] like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” 

Enjoy the ride, graduates. And Go Argos!

Photo of Dr. Saunders during inauguration
President Martha D. Saunders during her installation as the sixth president of the University of West Florida

Ancora Imparo

Inauguration Speech
UWF President Martha Saunders
April 21, 2017


So it was the ‘60s and a time of incredible change in this country. 

The year 1967 brought some remarkable firsts: the world’s first heart transplant, the first ATM, the first Superbowl. Nearly half a million American troops were fighting in Viet Nam. Women were beginning to martial forces and form our own front lines for equality in the workplace. A counterculture movement called “hippies” had originated on college campuses and challenged the moral culture of the times. 

The summer of 1967 was known as the “Summer of Love” when people got friendlier and moved to the music of The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.

We danced under psychedelic lights and, at least in my part of the country, we cheered for a brand new football franchise out of New Orleans known as The Saints.

Our hair was long and our skirts were short and when you asked us how our day was we would tell you it was…groovy.

And as the summer of love drew to its close, in the midst of societal change and chaos unlike any in modern memory, the University of West Florida opened its doors and classes began. And you wonder why we’re different.

About 1,200 charter students arrived to launch Florida’s sixth university. Today we enroll more than 13,000. Our first graduating class of 58 has grown to an alumni base of more than 75,000. Our graduates have gone on to greatness, distinguishing themselves as entrepreneurs, CEOs of major industries, national teachers of the year, artists, judges, and astronauts. 

We have moved from a pine forest to a brain trust with teaching, research and outreach sites throughout northwest Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. 

It’s safe to say we have grown. It’s safe to say we have changed. It is equally safe to say we will continue to grow and change – because that is the nature of knowledge. In the vernacular of 1967, UWF is outtasight!

I am truly glad to be here today. The inauguration of a new president is really a celebration of the university she serves. I am honored today to serve The University of West Florida, the place where I started as an adjunct instructor in 1984. Thank you all for joining us.

My sincere appreciation goes to:

• All on the platform who have brought greetings.
• All elected officials and members of our various Boards who are here today.
• Members of the inauguration committee who worked tirelessly under the whip of committee chair, Irene Patti, (better known as “the general”) and who made this a wonderful day of celebration for me and my family.
• My friends who traveled from far and wide to celebrate with me primarily because they never pass up a chance for a party.
• The people who spoke for me during the presidential selection period, especially my friend Mona who risked imprisonment in order to speak her mind.
• My sister, Dianne, who comes to all my inaugurations.
• My children. Thank you for growing up to be good men and for (finally) bringing a few women into the family. And thank you for giving me grandchildren! I bless ever minute I have had with you.
• And my husband, Joe. Lord Chesterton must have had us in mind when he wrote: “There are no words to express the abyss between isolation and having one ally. It may be conceded to the mathematician that four is twice two. But two is not twice one; two is two thousand times one.” Joe, you have been my ally, my partner in adventure and my friend, and I thank you.

Anyone in leadership will tell you we stand on the shoulders of those who came before. Five UWF presidents have come before me. Judge Harold Crosby began it all with a great vision and opened our doors 50 years ago.  James Robinson (who asked me to convey his warm regards and regrets he could not attend today) brought rigor and structure to our academic programs. Morris Marx launched high-profile programs, added 600 acres to the original campus and connected us, through innovative international programs. to the rest of the world. John Cavanaugh organized the technological infrastructure to make us a 21st-century university, and Judy Bense crystallized the vision of a traditional campus with a focus on students and brought us football. When I am done – I hope to have put us on the map.


Ancora Imparo

I selected the theme of Ancora Imparo for my inauguration because I believe the phrase reflects who we are at UWF. The term was popular during the 1500s, the European Renaissance, a time of great change…. Translated into English, it means Still I am learning, and it has been referenced by myriad authors and scholars since then as symbolic of the eternal quest for knowledge. 

The Renaissance was a time of the revival of classic learning and wisdom after a long period of cultural decline and stagnation. The spirit of the era was to inspire new confidence in the possibilities of human thought and creation. In modern terms, I think they were trying to “make Europe great again.” 

By the time of the High Renaissance, the movement had yielded inventions and works of art from the genius of Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael, that inspire us still today to learn more and do more. Ancora Imparo. Still I am learning. 

As we gather here today at The University of West Florida, we do so as a community of learners. Our industry is knowledge. We create knowledge in our laboratories, we disseminate knowledge in our classrooms, we preserve knowledge in our libraries and we apply knowledge through our service to the community. That’s what we do. 

And when we do what we do well, good things happen. Our students graduate and move on to become assets to their communities. They have good lives and good careers.  Our communities are enriched as we create knowledge centers that attract and sustain business and commerce. Our people are better because we bring out the best in all who come our way. Ancora Imparo. Still I am learning. 

By common definition, learning is the act of acquiring new or modifying existing knowledge. Learning does not happen all at once. It builds upon existing understanding. But hear this:  learning produces change and that change is relatively permanent. If we are learning, we are changing. Another way of stating that could be:  if we are not changing, we are probably not learning. As a community of learners at UWF for the past 50 years, we have seen change and will see more. 

Our 50th anniversary theme is Sea Change and I think that is aptly named. By definition, a Sea Change is a time of transformation and growth, and that is what we are doing today.  We believe that by transforming UWF, we will transform the region. Our transformation will occur in two ways: 

The first is physical transformation. Place matters and we aim to expand the footprint of UWF more broadly throughout the region.

• I see this 1,600-acre campus as a destination site where people will come and avail themselves of nature and other resources of the area – in addition to our academic programs.
• I see continued strengthening of our downtown presence in Pensacola and nurturing of the historic buildings in the UWF Historic Trust.
• Our Fort Walton Beach campus (that we share with NWFL State College) is a hive of opportunity for students there. With nine stand-alone programs and numerous support opportunities, we aim to provide tailored service for area needs. 

 The second transformation will be that of intellectual infrastructure. 

• Through the creation of Programs of Excellence, we will continue the development of knowledge clusters that attract and support business and industry. We know we cannot be all things to all people, but as programs become ready to move to the next level of growth, we plan to invest in them and take them to the moon.
• We will double down on partnerships with state colleges and local school systems to provide seamless opportunities for area students.
• We will continue to launch our Next Big Thing initiatives like UWF Global Online, Centers for Advanced Manufacturing, STEAM initiatives, a Center for Healthy Living and leadership in cybersecurity and supply chain logistics. 

And that is just a taste. There is much, much more to come.

We will do all this standing on a very firm foundation, built over 50 years. I would hold the quality of our academic programs and faculty against any. The solid foundation our students receive will remain, and as a result, the opportunities for them will expand exponentially. Ancora Imparo

And so, confident that education is the answer to almost every important question, I foresee a future when people arriving in this area will know they are in a university town because they can see it, hear it, feel it, experience it. Our students will come to us fully confident in their choice because we will take them where they want to be. Our faculty will enjoy long and productive careers in the fields of knowledge because they will be given the professional tools to do their work. Our staff will burst with pride of ownership as treasured members of the university team. And the communities we serve will find it impossible to imagine a day without the services of their hometown university. 

When you come to any of the campuses of the University of West Florida you will find us living the vision as a spirited community of learners launching the next generation of big thinkers who will change the world.

 And if you ask us how our day is going, we will tell you it…is…groovy.