GULFPORT — Charlie Crist tried on a new hat Tuesday, giving his first lecture at Stetson University College of Law, where students lined up to thank the former governor — and ask when he'd be back.
"Very soon," he told them.
Crist is an attorney with Morgan & Morgan, the law firm with the "For The People" slogan he never fails to plug. The event marked the start of Crist's role as a "distinguished professorial lecturer" at Stetson with a focus on government and ethics, an affiliation that will develop into guest lectures and perhaps a minicourse, said Darby Dickerson, vice president and dean.
"He has a lot to offer our students," she said.
On Tuesday, as about 200 law students and professors ate lunch, Crist delivered about 20 minutes of anecdotes from his days as attorney general and governor, sharing advice on fairness from former Attorney General Bob Butterworth and lessons in bipartisanship from a 2007 legislative special session on property insurance.
He told students the legacy he is most proud of was setting a new tone in Tallahassee, "a spirit of cooperation, if you will."
"Watch for those who will handle themselves in a way that will make you proud," he said.
He concluded by invoking Nelson Mandela's refusal to support partisan retribution in the wake of apartheid, sharing the story of the 2009 sports drama Invictus about Mandela's push for racial healing before the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa.
"There's all kinds of things that can bring people together," Crist said.
Some students took to his idealistic message, waiting to meet him after a question-and-answer session.
"The people's governor … that's a great reputation to have," said Ramil Kaminsky, 22, a first-year law student from Tampa who considers himself a conservative Republican. He told Crist he appreciated his moderate appeal.
Mercy Roberg, 30, a first-year law student who was a Largo kindergarten teacher, said she felt compelled to thank Crist personally for taking "a stance for teachers everywhere" when he vetoed a teacher pay bill similar to one signed last month.
The Legislature inspired her to go to law school, she said.
"After being a public school teacher and seeing, basically, the direct impact of legislation on my classroom, I figured a way I could make a huge change was to become a lawyer and actually work on educational policy," said Roberg, a Democrat.
Crist, who rarely misses a chance to give a shoutout to alma mater Florida State, will have to practice his Stetson cred.
When Spencer Hathaway, 23, a third-year law student from New Smyrna Beach, stood up to ask him a question, Crist asked about the "S" on his hat.
It was for Stetson.
Before the afternoon was out, Crist had a new cap with an "S" of his own.
Becky Bowers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 667-0509.