President Saunders Inauguration Address
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.
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.