Saluting the ‘Grand Guards’ of 1968

“We wouldn’t have been able to come this far without your love, support and loyalty,” President Kent Fuchs told members of the Class of 1968 at their induction into the Grand Guard Society.

Saluting the ‘Grand Guards’ of 1968

Friends, alumni, members of the Class of 1968, partners and family members: Welcome and thank you for being here. We’re delighted to have you back with us!

I speak to many groups of alumni and friends. But it’s rare that I get to talk to alumni with your depth of perspective on UF, and on how much it has grown and changed over the years.

Whether this is your 100th return trip to campus, or your very first since you graduated, all of you share a knowledge and love for this university that I appreciate and that I am grateful for.

I also know that your engagement with UF is rooted in your experience as students during an era that was really special in our history.

Just like students today, many of you loved going to football games. Some of you were even lucky enough to be at the Homecoming game on Oct. 29, 1966, the year of “The Kick.”

It was a crisp and clear fall day. UF and Auburn were tied up with 2 minutes and 12 seconds remaining. There were 60,000 fans in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium – many dressed in wool suits, ties or dresses, which was the way fans used to come to games.

Spurrier famously waved off the kicker and kicked the winning field goal, for a 30-27 victory. Subsequently he took home UF’s first Heisman Trophy.

I don’t know if there was a bonfire in the street after that game, but I do know those bonfires were once a post-game tradition.

Maybe it’s good that some things have changed!

On class days during your time here, you might have had breakfast at Wolfies with friends to fuel up.

You might have spent time studying on the grass at the Plaza of the Americas. Students still do that today.

You might have visited Albert the Alligator … back then, literally, an alligator! … in his cage next to Century Tower.

And I know that when the holidays were approaching in December, many of you looked forward to hearing Dean of Students Lester Hale do his annual reading of Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol” at University Auditorium.

Dr. Hale read “A Christmas Carol” every year for nearly four decades, and it was a cherished tradition!

When you graduated you left a lot of UF in the rearview mirror, but not your friends, or in so many cases the fellow student who became your husbands or wives.

I know people often meet their lifelong partners in college, but it seems especially true at UF. Just last week a student emailed me and asked me to record a video congratulating him and his betrothed on their engagement.

I gladly complied, though he hadn’t actually asked her yet. I hope everything worked out!

In 1967-68 annual tuition was $300. It’s gone up a bit since then, but it’s still a bargain at about $6,400.

We had a total of 20,769 students. Today we have about 55,000 students.

Our annual budget was $80M. Today it’s $6B! About half of that encompasses our healthcare system, UF Health Shands.

I don’t know our total square footage in 1967-68, but today we have 28M square feet valued at $4.7B.

Finally, UF is ranked by U.S. News and World Report as one of the nation’s top-ten public research universities today – a milestone reached only through the hard work and focused effort of generations of Gators preceding and following your own.

As much as the university has changed, I hope we’ve preserved what you loved, and improved whatever was lacking. We certainly wouldn’t have been able to come this far without your love, support and loyalty.

Thanks again to all of you for coming home to UF.  Members of the class of 1968, I offer huge congratulations on your induction as Grand Guards.  It is great to be a Florida Gator!