SARASOTA, Fla. (Dec. 07, 2015) – Bill Mariotti was about five classes shy of graduating with a business degree when his father plunged through an old skylight on a demolition project in Sarasota.
He survived but broke both feet and ankles, requiring months of recuperation and physical therapy – time spent away from the family business.
In an instant, the trajectory of Mariotti’s life changed. The 22-year-old stopped taking classes at USF in Tampa, figuring to return when his father healed. For now, the business – a site development company – remained his priority.
But as time passed and his involvement in the company deepened, Mariotti’s motivation to hit the books waned. Months stretched into years and then decades. By the time he reached his 40s, Mariotti was running the company as president and CEO. It had grown three-fold since childhood when he and his father would sit side-by-side on a tractor.
Years later, at 53, Mariotti decided it was now or never. Friends – in particular longtime USF booster Ted Bogusz – had urged him to “go for it” and get his degree.
Dennis Stover, USFSM’s vice regional chancellor for University Advancement, encouraged him as well: “As Bill joined our fundraising committee on campus, (Director of Alumni Affairs) Jay Riley and I pushed him to begin conversations with our admissions folks.”
Heeding their advice, Mariotti enrolled at USF Sarasota-Manatee in the summer of 2014. The plan was to take one class per semester at night – five all together – so as to not interfere with business. The first of those was a marketing course called “Buyer behavior.” He ended up getting “B,” which Mariotti viewed as encouraging considering how much time had passed.
He remembers feeling anxious that first day back – “It was like going to the doctor’s office” – and recalls how classes had changed since his days at USF Tampa, especially where technology was concerned. One assignment required he create a Power Point presentation. Unfamiliar with the software, he turned to a tutor-friend for advice.
“It seemed like everything you needed to learn was on a computer,” he said.
Then, outside class, Mariotti found he needed to readapt to the rigors of studying: “I have so much more on my mind now. It felt like I had to learn how to study again.”
Surprisingly, one thing not needing adjustment was how he related to the 20-something college crowd, which welcomed him regardless of the age difference. He said he took a self-deprecating approach to his classmates.
“I’m the older, slower one,” he would say, cracking a smile.
Now 18 months later, Mariotti is completing his final semester. At 55, he is about to finish what he began more than 30 years ago and earn a Bachelor of Science degree in general business with a concentration in management and marketing.
He’s expecting a mix of emotions when he steps onto the stage for his diploma at the Bradenton Area Convention Center Dec. 13. His mother and father passed away years ago, but many friends have promised to attend.
“I’ll be happy and sad. Happy at the accomplishment and sad it’s over,” he said of returning to college, which he equated to resuming a journey.
Mariotti said he hopes to stay involved with USFSM. Already, he’s a member of the Community Leadership Council, an advisory group comprised of business leaders, and he chairs the Campaign Leadership Committee, a fundraising arm for USFSM. But also rolling around in his mind is the notion of graduate school.
“It might be a good time to look at that,” he said. “We’ll see.”
USF Sarasota-Manatee’s fall 2015 commencement is set to begin promptly at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 13. For more information, please visit http://usfsm.edu/event/usfsm-commencement/.