Ask Sudsy – April 2018
I understand that USF St. Petersburg will hold its first-ever official summer Commencement in August 2018. When was the first campus-based graduation?
The ways and means of honoring USF St. Petersburg’s graduates has sustained a colorful evolution, always focused on celebrating our students and their achievements. When the USF Bay Campus opened in July 1965, it was to accommodate (temporarily) an overflow of freshmen enrolled at USF Tampa. In 1968, the campus became the institution we know today, under the visionary leadership of founding dean, Dr. Lester Tuttle, Jr. The initial mission of the campus was to serve upper division and graduate students. Working with St. Petersburg Junior College (which offered freshmen and sophomore classes), Pinellas County residents now had access to a four-year college program without having to cross Tampa Bay.
USFSP would maintain this structure until 1998 when freshmen students were admitted as part of the Learning Community initiative. In those early days, all USF students could participate in the official Commencement at USF Tampa. However, USF St. Petersburg students yearned to share a sense of accomplishment with their local academic colleagues.
Consequently, in 1971, seniors developed the first of an annual “Graduation Celebration.” The inaugural event occurred at the deluxe Port-O- Call on Tierra Verde. A dinner-dance, it also featured a short program at which soon-to- be-graduates received a certificate identifying each as a USF St. Petersburg “Candidate for Graduation.” The seniors also selected a guest speaker, usually a legendary faculty member such as Prof. Bob Hall (English) or Prof. Harry Schaleman (Geography), to offer parting words. After the presentation of awards, a rollicking live band played into the night.
Eventually authorized to hold official ceremonies locally, the first USF St. Petersburg Commencement convened on May 1, 1982, on the campus waterfront. Graduation Celebration continued and eventually morphed into a post-Commencement Reception held at the Campus Activities Center (now called the Student Life Center). The reception was a collegial opportunity for graduates to introduce their families to our faculty and staff – and fellow students. The tradition of Graduation Celebration continued until around the mid-2000s.
Commencement was held on Saturdays under a large tent on the campus waterfront until 1989. Torrential rain on April 30, 1988, forced a move from our campus environs to the Christ United Methodist Church in downtown St. Petersburg just hours before Commencement start time. Lynn Pippenger, a member of that graduating class, fondly remembers this scenario. Graduates’ clothes may have been dampened by inclement
weather but their spirits were not! After that incident, the nearby Mahaffey Theater hosted subsequent Commencements, sometimes simultaneously with major events such as the Ringling Brothers Circus in the adjacent Bayfront Theater.
In the early days of Commencement, guest speakers were part of the protocol. Noted author and raconteur Cleveland Amory was the commentator at the first USFSP Commencement in 1982.
Students lobbied hard for a December Commencement and the first one was held at the Tradewinds Resort on St. Pete Beach on Dec. 16, 1993. Sister Margaret Freeman, founder of the St. Petersburg Free Clinic, was the speaker.
As the University population continued to expand, additional Commencement ceremonies were required to accommodate the graduates and their families. The tradition of a guest speaker disappeared in 2001 – with one exception. U.S. Rep. C.W. (Bill) Young spoke in December 2006. His son, C.W. Young II, was a member of the graduating class
The inaugural summer USFSP Commencement will be August 5, 2018.