Throwback Thursday: The week’s big dates in Florida education history

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This installment of “Throwback Thursday” celebrates graduation season — something many Floridians  are experiencing for themselves and with their children this summer.

The week of June 12 marks the 44th anniversary of the first graduating class from Florida Technological University, now the University of Central Florida. The commencement ceremony was held at the Orlando Municipal Auditorium (now the Bob Carr Performing Arts Center), with astronaut and Orlando native John Young as the guest speaker. Young encouraged graduates to “build better lives, and a better world.” Degrees were awarded to 423 graduates, and since then, the college has awarded more than a quarter of a million diplomas.

Also in early June of 1901, West Florida Seminary was officially renamed Florida State University. While the process for recreating itself had began years prior, the college would not be fully accredited until 1915.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas was awarded an honorary doctoral degree by the University of Miami at a commencement on June 9, 1952; as was Wendell Phillips on June 8, 1969, and George Smathers on June 9, 1960.

In June, 1959, the United States Air Force Academy graduated its first class, commissioning 207 students as officers; and the first class of United States Naval Academy students graduated on June 10, 1854.

A few other June dates stand out in Florida education history. For example, in June, 1889, Florida moved all public schools from district to county administration. After that point, all schools were under control of county school boards. According to the “History of Public School Education in Florida” by Thomas Everette Cochran, this move resulted in cost savings, greater equality of schools, and better instruction.

On June 18, 1955, Gov. LeRoy Collins signed House Bill 1008 by Rep. Sam Gibbons, creating a state university in Hillsborough County — what would become the University of South Florida. USF has had a few other notable June events in its history. In June 1965, USF played its first intercollegiate sporting event in which it defeated Florida Southern’s men’s soccer team. In June 2009, USF became the first university in the US to create an agreement with the Department of Veterans Affairs to offer special services for veterans using the GI Bill; and on June 17, 2009, USF and Mote Marine Laboratory signed an agreement to join forces in new science ventures.

Ten years later, in June 1965, Gov. W. Haydon Burns signed Senate Bill 711 by Sen. Robert Haverfield to create a state university in Miami. Florida International University’s first commencement was held in June 1973 in the reading room of the ground floor of Primera casa (now the Perry Building). The first class of 191 graduates were awarded diplomas that day.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.