SARASOTA, Fla. (March 7, 2016) – USF Sarasota-Manatee “let down its hair” with a casual kickoff celebration in September and welcomed scores of alumni to a day-long festival a few weeks ago, but on Friday as the campus prepared to wrap up its year-long 40th Anniversary celebration, it saved the best for last.
More than 350 USFSM supporters – many decked out in formal attire – filed into the Polo Grill and Bar Fête Ballroom Friday night to celebrate USFSM’s history, party with mascot Rocky and reconnect with old friends.
“It was exciting to see so many people who have been instrumental in the evolution of USF Sarasota-Manatee over the past 40 years,” Regional Chancellor Dr. Stone observed. “It’s also exciting to see so many new faces who will lead us into the future.”
Although dubbed a “black-tie dinner” – the final party in a year of anniversary soirees – the event seemed to exude a spirit that was anything but stuffy. Guests laughed heartily, posed for pictures and reminisced about their college days and past friendships.
For the first hour or so, they mingled in a reception area outside the ballroom, posing for snapshots and sipping wine and cocktails. Student Ambassadors greeted the guests as they entered. Many of the conversations revolved around USFSM in its early days, pre-2006 when it shared space with New College of Florida.
Not only does USFSM have its own home now, but it has evolved to become a separately accredited, four-year institution offering more than 40 bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and certificate programs at four colleges.
Class of ’92 alumna Christi Womack Villalobos noted of the dinner: “It was very much a school spirit type of thing,” drawing a cross-section of folks from Sarasota and Manatee counties. “It was nice to see a lot of people there from all different facets of the community.”
Clad in a sparkly, green gown, she attended the four-hour event with her husband, Greg Villalobos. Like others, she said the two enjoyed catching up with friends and fellow graduates.
“It was fun,” she said. “The tone was such that it wasn’t going to be a stuffy event. People let loose.”
The evening wasn’t all lightheartedness, though. As the program got under way, a few poignant moments unfolded. Two alumni from the Perlman Music Program, violinists Doori Na and Areta Zhulla, wowed audience members with a selection of classical music.
Perhaps more memorable, past and present campus leaders – including former Dean Dr. Robert Barylski, campus CEO Dr. Laurey T. Stryker and Regional Chancellor Dr. Arthur Guilford, along with current Regional Chancellor Dr. Stone and USF System President Dr. Judy Genshaft – were called to the stage to be honored with crystal vases.
“I think that was my favorite part,” said Dr. Anila Jain, who co-chaired the event with Pete Petersen, chief executive officer of Sarasota-based Dealers United, adding that she noticed a few tears among audience members.
“Having the deans and the chancellor and the presidents come up to be recognized, that was really special because I know each one of them very well,” she said. “I have worked with each one and regard them as my friends.”
Dr. Stone noted that, “I never cease to be amazed at the quality of our faculty, staff and students.”
Later, the evening took an amusing turn when Hollywood actor, Sarasota resident and USF alumnus Greg Pitts presided over a live auction, injecting humor as he sought to energize the room – and escalate the bidding. “Feel free to call me Dr. Pitts,” he quipped in reference to the numerous professors around him.
The event ended up raising nearly $10,000 in scholarship funds. Guests bid on football game tickets, a weeklong vacation stay, a weekend hotel stay, a tailgate party at the polo grounds in Lakewood Ranch and a diamond necklace.
Noted philanthropist and entrepreneur Jaimie Mayer served as guest speaker. She talked about how our college experiences shape us over our lifetime and how we “stand on the shoulders” of those preceding us.
Also attending was the new dean of the College of Hospitality & Tourism Leadership, Dr. Patrick J. Moreo. Dr. Moreo, a professor at UNLV, flew in from Las Vegas to attend. From below the stage, he gave a big wave as Dr. Stone introduced him to the crowd.
“Having been to many alumni events over the past 30 years, I can say that this event had so much energy in the room,” Dr. Jain said, summing up. “It had a celebratory atmosphere.”