Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

USF St. Petersburg graduates hundreds, honors Rick Baker

ST. PETERSBURG — Former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker received the University of South Florida St. Petersburg's highest honor Sunday night, awarded as the university christened more than 400 new graduates.

It granted Baker the Chancellor's Award for Civic Leadership for outstanding contributions to the community during his two terms as mayor beginning in 2001. During Baker's terms, he renovated the building where he accepted his award — the Mahaffey Theater — brought hotels to the city and relocated the Salvador Dalí Museum.

"The vibrant and engaging city we all know and love today is the direct result of the visionary leadership of Rick Baker," said USFSP regional chancellor Sophia Wisniewska.

After leaving office, Baker became vice president for economic development for USF and president of the Edwards Group, which, among other projects, manages the Mahaffey.

Baker offered two thoughts to graduates:

"Keep learning your whole life," he said, dressed in a green graduation gown, "and never let anyone tell you that you can't do anything."

About 250 of the graduating students attended the ceremony. Inside the circular concert hall, March No. 1 — the graduation song — was piped in as everyone took their seats.

Then Judy Genshaft, president of the USF system, mentioned a couple of graduates who came to or returned to USF later in life so they could accomplish long-planned goals. One was a law enforcement officer and mother, who returned mid-career to earn her bachelor's degree.

The other was Sandi Phillips-Ford, who in her early 60s was one of the oldest graduates (the oldest was 70). Phillips-Ford began her studies at USF 45 years before. She graduated with her 24-year-old son, Alex Ford.

Phillips-Ford said when she was a junior in high school during the 1960s, the governor of Florida sent her a letter, declaring her in the top 3 percentile of students statewide. With a full-ride scholarship attached, she planned to attend college.

"Then I found out I was pregnant," she said.

At that time, if you were a young pregnant woman, you weren't allowed to attend high school, Phillips-Ford said. So she put off her plans of college.

In 1968, she enrolled at USF's Tampa campus when her son, Dean, was just 2.

"Then life got in the way," she said.

Dean graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1989, and Phillips-Ford planned to re-enroll. Then, once again, she became pregnant.

Over the years, the single mother has slowly taken a night class here and there, but finally completed requirements for her bachelor of science degree — which happened to be at the same school, and same semester as her second son, Alex, who graduated with a degree in English literature.

"We didn't really plan to graduate together at all," Phillips-Ford said.

The realization first hit them after Phillips-Ford spoke with her counselor this semester.

The degree was more symbolic than anything, she said, because she has had a job in accounting for decades. She and her son chose not to attend Sunday's ceremony.

Maybe she'll study for the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination so she can open her own office, she said. If for nothing else than to set a new goal.

"I feel like what else do you do if you're not working toward something," she said.

The graduates marched across stage. Parents and family cheered, hollered and clapped after each new name called.

At the end, Genshaft walked to the lectern and said, "please move your tassels to the left."

USF St. Petersburg graduates hundreds, honors Rick Baker 12/15/13 [Last modified: Sunday, December 15, 2013 11:27pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Observations from a liberal, gay, Latino, feminist Florida House freshman


    State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando,  rocked the Florida LGBTA Democratic Caucus dinner at Tallahassee's Hotel Duval Satursday night with his unabashedly liberal and passionate take on the myriad issues he said are key to LGBTQ Floridians. Among them: Access to guns, Reproductive rights, home …

    Carlos G. Smith
  2. Delta Sigma Theta honors outgoing national president

    Human Interest

    During her four years as national president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Paulette Walker said she always focused on the comma between "Sorority" and "Inc."

    Paulette Walker, the former director of undergraduate programs and internship in the College of Education at the University of South Florida, will be honored on Saturday for her leadership in the Delta Sigma Theta sorority.
  3. 10 sailors missing, 5 hurt in collision of USS John S. McCain

    SEOUL —Ten U.S. Navy sailors are missing and five have been injured after the USS John S. McCain destroyer collided with an oil tanker near Singapore early Monday morning.

    In this Jan. 22, 2017, photo provided by U.S. Navy, the USS John S. McCain patrols in the South China Sea while supporting security efforts in the region. The guided-missile destroyer collided with a merchant ship on Monday, Aug. 21, in waters east of Singapore and the Straits of Malacca. Ten sailors were missing, and five were injured, the Navy said. [James Vazquez/U.S. Navy via AP]
  4. Pasco County Fire Rescue fighting a two-alarm fire started by an explosion


    Two houses are on fire and one victim has been critically burned and taken to a trauma center following an explosion at a home at 8652 Velvet Dr, in Port Richey.

  5. Rays see the Blake Snell they've been waiting for in win over Mariners

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — It was a one-run game Sunday when the Mariners' Robinson Cano singled with one out in the seventh inning, bringing the dangerous Nelson Cruz to the plate.

    Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell (4) throwing in the third inning of the game between the Seattle Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017.