Hitt It Big

By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (March 1, 2017) – A key to the city, numerous proclamations of praise and a special honorary alumni award were all bestowed to UCF’s transformational leader, President John C. Hitt, in honor of his 25th anniversary Wednesday at the UCF Student Union.

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Hitt, along with his wife Martha, not only both received the alumni distinction, but will also have the award named in their honor in future years.

Dan Ward, chair elect of the UCF Alumni Board and a member of Hitt’s first class of graduates in 1992, commended the couple before presenting them with the award. Honorary alumni are recognized for their outstanding service and philanthropy to UCF; lifelong devotion and loyalty to the university; and upholding the UCF creed of integrity, scholarship, community, creativity and excellence.

“Today, on the 25th anniversary of the black and gold’s most dynamic duo, a grateful community knows we are better because of you,” Ward said. “We also know that you are better because of each other. And, because you have made us part of your family, it is with great joy and pride that we take the step today of officially making you part of ours.”

Dan Ward ’92, UCF Alumni Board chair-elect, presents a citation to John and Martha Hitt declaring the couple as honorary alumni of UCF.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, UCF Board of Trustees Chairman Marcos Marchena and Student Government President Christopher Clemente were among the hundreds in attendance to witness the moment.

The honor seemed only fitting given how many degrees Hitt has conferred during his 25 years at UCF.

As of September 2016, Hitt has handed out 241,918 degrees, accounting for more than 80 percent of all degrees conferred since UCF’s founding in 1963.

Nationally, Hitt is one of the all-time leaders among public university presidents who conferred degrees at a single school. In addition, he is currently the longest-serving president in the Florida State University System. He ranks third among the longest-serving presidents in Florida SUS history.

It appears he has no intention of slowing down. When he was prompted with the question of “What’s next?,” Hitt stated matter-of-factly:

“Well, tomorrow will be the second day of my 26th year,” eliciting laughter and applause from the crowd.

As the celebration came to a close, Hitt spoke from the heart to express his gratitude to his colleagues, partners and students at the university.

“As with most anniversaries, today’s celebration is infused with nostalgia. It’s a potent and powerful feeling. But more powerful is the belief I have in our future,” Hitt said. “My belief is, for our beloved UCF, the best is yet ahead. Thank you. Go Knights.”

What They Are Saying
“Through Dr. Hitt’s leadership UCF has become a school that attracts talented, ambitious and diverse students from near and far. It is a place where students go to not only continue their education, but also thrive. A place where they can foster new relationships, explore their interests and gain experiences that will open the doors to their future.” – Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs

“Without UCF and Dr. Hitt’s 25 years of leadership, Orlando, Orange County, all of Central Florida might not be one of the nation’s fastest-growing regions as it is today.” – Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer

“Mr. President, let me first start with an apology. I know your humility makes you averse to praise. I know it is your wish for this day to be less about you and more about this university. However, I find it impossible to talk about the success of UCF without you. I have had the privilege and honor to speak after you on various occasions and each time I am left inspired by your leadership.” – UCF Student Body President Christopher Clemente

“The university has made great advances under his leadership including an expansion of programs, facilities, student access, faculty hires and achievements.” – Professor Keith Koons, chair of the UCF Faculty Senate, reading from a resolution passed unanimously by the Faculty Senate.

“I must confess that when I started work at Florida Technological University eons ago I was not sure I would stay. The university was in its embryonic stage. And after gradual improvements John and Martha Hitt arrived and the university went into overdrive and improved beyond even my wildest imagination…Thank you, John and Martha for this E-ticket ride.” – Maggie LeClair, university employee since 1974 and currently assistant to the dean of the College of Sciences.

Then & Now: Eight Ways UCF Has Changed in 25 Years with President Hitt

The 1992 comedy “Wayne’s World” summed it best: “Party Time! Excellent!” On March 1, we’ll be commemorating the man, the myth, the legend that is President John C. Hitt, who will celebrate his 25th anniversary at UCF.

When Hitt first accepted the job in 1992, UCF’s enrollment was 21,267 (In 2017 we’re at 64,318) and just five of the current 12 colleges on campus existed. As we take a look back over the last 25 years, here are some events and moments that captured the headlines in 1992 and how they relate to life at UCF today.

 

1. We Want Ducks!
In 1992, a cargo ship container tumbled into the North Pacific, dumping 28,000 rubber ducks that were headed from China to the U.S. We can neither confirm nor deny that some of these ducks have been spotted at Spirit Splash. One of the nation’s best campus traditions celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2015.

2. Baby Bortles
On April 28, 1992, Rob and Suzy Bortles brought their son Blake into the world. Years later, after guiding the Knights to their best season in history – largely in the on-campus stadium that President Hitt had built – and a BCS Championship, the highest drafted football player in UCF history is suiting up for the Jacksonville Jaguars every Sunday in the fall.

3. Up In Smoke
Remember when smoking was a thing? In 1992, the first prescription nicotine patch went on sale. In April 2012, President Hitt announced that UCF would become a smoke-free campus by that August.

4. Happiest Place on Earth
Our neighbors Mickey and Minnie unveiled Splash Mountain at the Magic Kingdom in October 1992. Twenty-three years later, Knights football players, coaches, band members, cheerleaders, fans and the main man himself, President Hitt, flooded the park to celebrate UCF’s BCS Fiesta Bowl win in a one-of-a-kind parade down Main Street – and of course take a ride down the 56-foot drop.

5. Skate Culture
Longboards are almost as prevalent at UCF as flip flops and tank tops. While you’re gliding through Memory Mall on your skateboard during a class break, think about this: The OG skateboarder Tony Hawk opened his own company, Birdhouse Skateboards, in 1992.

6. We Salute You
A Few Good Men – YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH – was one of the most popular films of 1992 and nominated for four Oscars that year, including Best Picture. UCF has a few good men and women of their own in the ROTC program, whose building was dedicated by President Hitt in 2013.

7. Not Just A Dream, But Reality
In 1992, the Dream Team was the biggest story of the Barcelona Summer Olympics. Fast forward to 2016 and UCF’s own Dream Team of Olympians participated at the Rio Games in August. If you want to talk about the remarkable things Knights can do, check this out – In university history, seven former Knights have participated at the Olympics, and four of them were involved in Rio.

8. Big-Time Gamers
We have one word for you: Kirby. That loveable pink orbed character first appeared in Kirby’s Dream Land for Game Boy in 1992. In the years since, the video game industry has exploded – even right here at UCF.

In 2005, the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy, UCF’s graduate game-design program, held its first class of 12 students. Today, it is ranked as the best grad game design program in the world by the Princeton Review. And following the ideology of President Hitt to “dream big,” by 2019, FIEA will become a part of UCF’s new downtown campus, which will bring more than 7,000 students to help grow the Orlando gaming, film and digital media economies.