The Presidential Investiture of Tonjua Williams, Ph.D. Dr. Terry: Good morning ladies and gentlemen.
Audience: Good morning. Dr. Terry: Please remain standing for our invocation and for the singing of our national anthem. The invocation will be delivered by, Reverend Lewis M Murphy Sr., Senior Pastor of Mount Zion progressive Missionary Baptist Church. Our national anthem will be sung by Meghan O’Berry at St. Petersburg College music student. Louis: Please pray with me in your belief as I pray in mine. Heavenly Father, creator of the heavens and the earth, creator of all mankind. We bless and praise your holy and righteous name. Truly thou is an awesome God and beside you Lord there is no other. We thank you for this wonderful occasion that we have here today to indoctrinate one of our very own. We’re asking that as we go through this investor today here on earth that you would do something special in the heavenly realm. Father that you will would empower her with the wisdom of Solomon. Empower her with the courage of David, the integrity of Ruth, the humility of Mary. Be with all those the Board of Trustees, the staff, professors, the students, we pray that her tenure will be one of great success. We pray that all hands will come on deck to make sure that her presidency is one of a great success. We thank you, we bless you, we praise you and it is in your Holy Name we pray and ask it all. Amen. Audience: Amen. [Music by Meaghan O’Berry] “O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light, What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming, Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming? And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air, Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there, O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?” Dr. Terry: Please be seated. Thank You pastor and Megan. Welcome to the Palladium at St. Petersburg College my name is Terry Brett. I am a proud graduate of St. Petersburg College. [Applause] I also had the great honor of serving as chairman of the board of trustees a few years ago and most recently as the chairman of our presidential search committee which brought us Dr. Tonjua Williams. So, I’m very honored to be here today. [Applause]. We are here today for a very important celebration. Our 91-year-old college the first two-year public college in the state of Florida is entering a new era. We celebrate today the selection of our seventh president, Dr. Tonjua Williams [Applause]. And bestow upon her the honors and authority to which she is entitled. Today’s celebration is called an investiture. It is an academic ceremony which has symbolized the pursuit of knowledge since the Middle Ages.
We are so pleased that all of you are here to join us today in this historic celebration. Among our guests today our civic and educational leaders who shape our lives in meaningful ways and I’d like to recognize them and ask them to stand and I would also like to ask if we could hold our applause until the last person is introduced. Dr. Michael Basten, president of Rockland Community College in New York. Dr. Monique Umphrey, vice president Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio. Dr. ken Atwater, president Hillsborough Community College. Dr. Timothy Beard, president of Pasco Hernando State College. Ms. Karen Moore, chairman of the District Board of Trustees at Tallahassee Community College.
Dr. Paul de Sol, the University of South Florida vice president for student affairs and student success here today for Dr. Judy Genshaft. Dr. Ola Funke Fontana, Interim regional vice chancellor of academic affairs for USF St. Petersburg. State Senator, Jeff Brandes, former state senator Dr. Don Sullivan. State representative, Chris Lavalla. State representative Kathleen Peters, state representative Wengay Newton. Pinellas County Commission Chairman, Mr. Ken Welch. Pinellas County Circuit Court Clerk Mr. Ken Burke. Pinellas County School Board Chairman Ms Renee Flowers and the Gulf Coast Regional Director for United States Senator Marco Rubio Mr. Jonathan Torres. Thank you very much. [Applause] I sincerely hope that we did not leave anyone out. On the platform with me today are also honored guests which I will be introducing to you at the time of their participation in the ceremony. So, let us begin, the first to bring greetings today is the Chancellor of the Florida College System of which we are a part. Welcome Chancellor Madeline Pumariega. Madeline: Good morning. Good morning distinguished guests, faculty, staff, students, the leadership at St. Petersburg College, our board of trustees, colleagues from across the state but a very, very, good morning to the madam president; president, Tonjua Williams.
Today’s a special day, investitures are special. They’re special for lots of reasons, we wear this beautiful regalia, we march in, we bring our family and friends together and we celebrate. We celebrate a professional accomplishment, we celebrate the next chapter of an amazing college, we celebrate a lover of the community, we celebrate student success and the president lays out a vision for what she will do during her time. I could not think of someone more special today to be the president, the seventh president, the first female president, the first African-American president. [Applause] But what got her to this stage and to this presidency has been 31 years of a labor of love, a love for students, a love for the Academy, a love for the community and a love for excellence. I know that what will propel her into an amazing president will be that same love and commitment. Her vision that every decision is around how we make students succeed, how we in the Academy uphold excellence, how we serve our communities, how we make sure that our business leaders have the talent that they need so that they can grow and thrive and be successful in Florida and most importantly giving our students a path to success. Our colleges are special and they’re special because just like here at St. Peter’s College across our other 27 institutions, one in two of our students are awarded a Pell Grant; that means you’re a low-income first in your family to ever go to college and we pride ourselves to make those dreams become a reality. So, I am so blessed to be here today to bring you greetings to make sure and ensure that president Williams has all of the support that she needs from our system office, from our state, from the governor’s office and from her colleagues.
But most importantly, I’m blessed that I get to be here today to celebrate a special person who will write a beautiful chapter for St. Pete College and for this community. Congratulations president Williams. [Applause]. Dr. Terry: Thank You chancellor. Ms. Fatma Hedeia , is our president of the student government on our Clearwater campus and brings greetings this morning from our student body, Ms. Hedeia. Ms. Hedeia: Good morning everyone. Audience: Good morning. Ms. Hedeia: When Dr. Williams asked me to do the student greeting for her investiture I was completely honored. I had to quickly ask Google what an investiture was though. I knew it has something to do with an inauguration but I wasn’t quite sure, so I needed to know specifically what that meant. Google defines it as a ceremony at which honors or rank are formally conferred on a particular person. Dr. Williams is being honored today with the rank of president however I believe it is the college that has the honor. As a student Dr. Williams has empowered me to make decisions on a variety of issues including how we use the activity funds the College collects in order to help my fellow students. To quote Aristotle “we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act but a habit”.
Dr. Williams continuously shows us what excellence is. Good morning and welcome to everyone. [Applause] Dr. Terry: Thank you Ms. Hedeia. Our alumni are a very important part of our SPC community. Ms. Sydnie Coraggio, class of 2016 and currently a student at the University of Florida will bring greetings from our alumni, Ms. Coraggio. Ms Sydnie: Good morning, now that I can see you all. My name is Sydnie Coraggio. I’m delighted to welcome this new era of leadership with Dr. Williams as president of st. Petersburg College on behalf of SPC alumni. I graduated in 2016 as a third generation SPC graduate but have had the pleasure of knowing Dr. Williams since before then. So, I knew that she would make a great president and she has definitely gone beyond everyone’s expectations. I had not only the honor of graduating from St. Petersburg collegiate high school but also graduating with my A.A. from SPC a day after receiving my high school diploma. While a student at SPC, I interacted with Dr. William’s through student government. She was in charge of helping us with our budgets and allocation of funds to help students.
I remember a few instances when we told her about initiatives you wanted to carry out to support students but we didn’t have enough money to complete them. Dr. Williams went out of her way every time to make sure that she found the money so we continued to improve the experience of the students of SPC. She’s continued to show this care and passion for students and that they are her number one concern through her new role as president. This had such an impact on my life as a student that when it came time for me to graduate high school that I personally invited her to speak at my graduation ceremony. I was not sure that she would attend since her role as senior vice president was demanding but she took time out of her busy schedule to come and speak, so I’m more than happy to return this favor for her and speak on her behalf today. On the exact same stage at the same podium. After I graduated and went on to the University of Florida I was fortunate enough to work with Dr. Williams in a new capacity. I spent the past two summers working as an administrative assistant in the president’s office and had the opportunity to be there during her transition. She continued to amaze me with her high level of focus and work ethic but also took the time to see how I was doing and stop her day to talk to me.
This showed a lot about her character. Dr. Williams has not only been one of my supervisors but a role model to me since before I graduated and now I even consider her family. Good luck Dr. Williams and I wish you a long presidency and I know you’ll do great things for the students of St. Petersburg College in the future. Go Titans. [Applause] Dr. Terry: Thank you Ms. Coraggio. Dr. Shannon Ulrich, is our Senate president for the faculty governance organization and brings greetings today from our faculty, Dr. Ulrich. Dr. Shannon: When first asked to be a part of this investiture event, being a microbiologist who hears the term Escherichia more often than investiture I too had to google it. But afterwards I was immediately humbled and honored to be a part of this prestigious ceremony. An investiture is not only a formal ceremony of conferring the authority and symbols of high office but it is also an academic ceremony which symbolizes a commitment to the pursuit of knowledge.
How far we’ve come in this pursuit of knowledge, how far we’ve come in this accessibility to the pursuit of knowledge, how far we’ve come in the access to a college education for our non-traditional students, the moms, the dads, the grandmothers, the veterans, the retirees, the individuals living in poverty and the students who lack a role model at home or even in life. As faculty members we aim to educate the minds of our students but sometimes to do this we have to first push them to believe that they can be and more importantly they deserve to be educated. I think, I often think our first job is to make students see the potential in themselves that they don’t even know exists. That is why this particular investiture is of great importance. We’re not only here to celebrate Dr. Williams as the charismatic and authentic individual that we all know her as but also to celebrate the story of Dr. Williams. A St. Petersburg native Dr. Williams started her SPC tenure in 1986, she spent the next 31 years continuing her education and working her way through the ranks at SPC. The road on her journey was not paved for her, it was earned through work integrity and commitment. I have to share this with you, at a recent meeting with Dr. Williams she mentioned she was hesitant to have this investiture because she does not like people making a fuss over her. But in my opinion and based on your reaction to the Chancellor’s comments being the— I think you all agree — being the first woman president of a college that was founded in 1927 and the first African-American president of a college founded in 1927, well that in my opinion warrants a bit of a fuss. [Applause]
The glass ceiling no longer exists. One more time, the glass ceiling no longer exists and education is key to that. This is the mantra that we try to instill in our students at SPC. In Dr. Williams we have a president that embodies that adage, a luminary. She stands as a beacon to the community of care being cultivated at St. Petersburg College. A person who illustrates the potential that exists right here within our own community. She is here to propel us into a new era of distinction and we as faculty are committed to the vision of excellence, distinction and engagement with Dr. Williams as our president. Congratulations Dr. Williams and thank you all. Dr. Terry: Thank You Dr. Ullrich. Ms. Kellie Ziemak, student services projects coordinator will now bring greetings from our administration and staff. Ms. Ziemak. Ms. Ziemak: I’m also a short one. Good morning, how is already today? On her first day as president, Dr. Williams shared that we need to renew our mission and revitalize our vision to focus on four key areas to be known as the four C’s: culture, communication, collaboration and creativity which all lead to community since then a new C has emerged and that is care. The word care accurately describes Dr. Williams. In her short time as president this idea of care has started to transform the organization. SPC has to embrace this concept because it’s what we do we care for our students, our colleagues, and our community. As a leader Dr. Williams is passionate, she inspires you, she fosters creativity and innovation and she provides focus and direction. She shows compassion, she Mentors, she celebrates her successes and above all she challenges you to be the best that you can be. But above all else she cares, in this concept to care because of Dr. Williams, now has been woven into the fabric of the culture as St. Petersburg College. And that same message from Dr. Williams on her first day as president she wrote, “I believe building a community is essential and making SPC a better place for learning, growing and working. We must be come together, be nimble be flexible, be creative.” Well Dr. Williams, on behalf of the administration staff I can tell you we embrace the community of care and we’re excited for the opportunity to join you on this journey. Thank you. [Applause] Dr. Terry: Thank You Ms. Ziemak. President Ava L Parker of Palm Beach State College is with us today. She is the chair of the Florida College System Council of presidents and will bring greetings from the council. Welcome to St. Petersburg College president Parker. Parker: Good morning. I’m so excited to have the opportunity to bring greetings on behalf of the Council of presidents for our dear friend Dr. Tonjua Williams. Thank you so much for giving me the honor of being the chair, I’m not quite the chair yet.
The chair is Dr. Tom Lobosco, he is the president of Daytona State College, however, I do chair the policy and Advocacy Committee and will be the chair in June. So, thank you so much for giving me the responsibilities a little bit early. I’d like to first start by saying congratulations to the search firm as to the selection committee and to the board of trustees for making the best possible selection you could have made for the seventh president of St. Petersburg college. I watched the process, I know some of the folks who applied they were great but they were not better than the person you selected, all right. So, thank God you made the right choice. And the reason that I can say that with such affirmation is that I’ve seen Tonjua work already. You see we’ve just finished our last legislative session. A big part of our job as the Council of presidents is to go out and advocate for our colleges and to advocate for the system. And so, what I want you to know is that Tonjua was not afraid to get in there and fight with us. That she was there and she was testifying before committees and I say to the members of the legislature, you all look kind of calm and quiet right now but you weren’t so nice and we were standing up and testifying. And so, I want you to know that Dr. Williams stood there and she stood tall. She did a great job representing the system and representing the college and that’s shown by the fact that she made some great friends, she was very intuitive, she knew who to cozy up to and I think that we can say that St. Pete College had a very successful 2018 legislative session. Thanks to the leadership of Dr. Williams and so to the board. It is very clear that she chose someone who was ready to lead right away and that’s the kind of leadership we need right now in the system. What’s so exciting about today April 6th 2018 is that it is today that Dr. Williams will stand at this investiture and show how she is going to invest in the college and lead it to another level. She was blessed to find a great foundation from a leadership of Dr. Law but she’s taken on the responsibility to invest herself and to provide the strategy and the vision to ensure that she doesn’t just rest on the laurels of what’s here right now but that we take St. Pete College to higher heights. And what I’d say to you is that she cannot do that alone. So, while we stand here today and we support Dr. Williams I will hope that as faculty you will see that this is the time for you also to reinvest in the college.
That you see this as a time for you to invest in your teaching methods and that for folks to see that the teachers and the faculty here at St. Pete College, they’re not just any faculty but they’re the best faculty in the state of Florida. I would say to our staff that’s here, please understand that we depend upon you to ensure that we’re doing the best that we can do for our students. That you would take April 6th as a day that you reinvest and assure that you support Dr. Williams by providing innovative practices to ensure that this little bit of money we get as our budget, that you find ways to be efficient, that you find ways to be efficient to make sure to make sure that we can serve our students. And to our community, you know we’re public colleges and we’re only as good as the support that we get from our community. And sometimes it’s going to be hard out there because Dr. Williams is gonna have different and innovative ways to do things so we’re going to need the community to now reinvest and support her and support the college and show that you’re going to be there when times are good and when times are bad. So, use this as a day to invest and Dr. Williams. And I say to the Board of Trustees trust, your judgment. You made a great decision in selecting Dr. Williams as a 7th president and so, I ask that you invest in her and support her leadership and understand that she has what it takes, she has the right stuff to take the institution to the next level. To Dr. Williams, so proud you’re my friend. So, you don’t know some mornings it’s hard to go to work so I have to call Dr. Williams to say you know this person is getting on my last nerve can you please give me the division to understand that we’re here for the students and that sometimes you have to work through the other people for us to get there.
And on the other mornings I called Dr. Pumariega because Madeline gets me through the other days. I just want you to know that we are here to support you, that I understand that you’re gonna do some amazing things here and I have to say one disclaimer before I sit down. To the faculty you’re the best faculty in the state of Florida today. Okay, tomorrow Palm Beach State College faculty of the best faculty in the state of Florida okay, so I am going to give it to you today. But I just want you to know that I am along for the ride and that I cannot wait to see what is going to be next for Palm Beach State…. for the Lord. I know it’s gonna be next to Palm beach because I’m gonna do my thing. But I can’t wait to see what’s gonna be next for St. Petersburg College under the leadership of the one Dr. Tonjua Williams, congratulations. [Applause] Dr. Terry: Thank you president Parker and now I believe everyone here can see why we wanted to give you an early promotion to chairman of the Council of Presidents. We shouldn’t have to wait till June. State Sen. Darryl Rouson is with us today and will now bring greetings on behalf of our state officials. Sen. Rouson. Sen. Rouson: Good morning. The symbolism is not lost upon me. I’ve heard that St. Pete College was founded in 1927, the same year that the black community went to the Pinellas School District and said, we want a high school here for our children because education is important and Gibbs high school was born. At the time there were no African-Americans at Saint Pete Junior College because Gibbs Junior College had to open up in 1957 and closed in 1967 when Saint Peter Junior College integrated, we’ve come a long way. And it’s not about the first female, the first African-American. It’s about a professional educator who dedicated a determined lifestyle so that the dreams of others could be manifested in a college setting, the dreams of all of our fathers and mothers. And so, it brings perspective to this day. I am humbled to have been asked to be a part of this exceptional gathering of people paying tribute and honoring the Living Legacy, the professional continuing journey of Dr. Tonjua Williams. By this investiture the community pauses and notates the record of local history with exclamation.
And as president Parker indicated, you are well served. In her first legislative session as president of this esteemed College she tackled the often difficult to navigate process armed with knowledge, steeped and desire, comforted with courage and sprinted away with victories for the success of students. I was so proud to be able to call her in the evening hours after a particularly tense conversation with the Senate president about completing the construction of the Gibbs campus, and to tell her Dr. Williams your work has borne fruit. The money will be in the budget. And therefore, on behalf of the half-million constituents of Florida State Senate district 19, inclusive of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, and as chairman of the Pinellas state legislative delegation we congratulate and we celebrate with you. If any of you watched her interview process you’ll remember that she put the world on notice St. Pete College under her leadership is not the fall back it’s the plan. Welcome Dr. Tonjua. [Applause] Dr. Terry: Thank you senator. We are delighted that mayor Rick Chrisman is here to bring greetings on behalf of the city of St. Petersburg and also on behalf of all of the mayor’s in the district the college serves, mayor Kriseman. Mayor Rick: Good morning everyone, thank you all for being here this morning. Chancellor Pumariega, Sen Rouson, Reverend Murphy, superintendent Griego and distinguished speakers and guests. I bring you greetings on behalf of the other 23 mayors in Pinellas County and I thank all who are here for this important a momentous occasion. Madam President, distinguished members of the Board of Trustees, the sun is shining on St. Pete College today. It is shining on our great city, it is shining on Pinellas County and it is shining everywhere in Tampa Bay.
The Sun shines on the faculty and staff of this incredible institution and it is shining most brightly on Dr. Tonjua Williams our esteemed president. But most of all it’s also shining on the students who make St. Pete College what it is, one of the finest educational institutions in the sunshine city, in the Tampa Bay region and in the great state of Florida. Sunshine is really all about opportunity and when I talk about the sun shining here I’m talking about those of us who are building a city of opportunity for all, a place where the Sun shines on all of us. And that’s why it’s so important to us that St. Pete College continues to be our partner at City Hall because we need to work together to make sure our city is the kind of city where your students can learn, grow, thrive and take our city to the next level. When you see that the mission of St. Pete college is to promote student success and enrich their community in equal measure you know that you have a partner in building that city of opportunity. I know I have a partner in St. Pete College because your values reflect our city values: innovation, partnership, diversity, innovation, citizenship, transparency, outstanding service. I also know I have a good partner in Dr. Williams. Now you all don’t need me to expound on the virtues of someone who was so recently named one of the top 25 women in higher education in the nation. Dr. Williams, thank you for all that you do for these students and for our community. Now before I close out my remarks I want to say one last word I’m building a city of opportunity where the Sun shines on all of us. You’re going to hear a musical piece next, the young man who’s going to play it for you is Mr. Adan Martinez. He is a proud SPC student but he is also part of our Men In The Making program. He is the embodiment of our efforts to provide opportunity, he is a part of the sunshine. Again on behalf of the almost 260 thousand residents of this great city, Dr. Williams, thank you for your leadership and congratulations. [Applause]. Dr. Terry: Thank You mayor and as he mentioned Mr. Adan Martinez will perform, Guiche, by Francesco Varcheney on the viola. Mr. Martinez. [Applause] Dr. Terry: That was impressive thank you. Thank you, Mr. Martinez. And now Ms. Melissa Seixas, vice president of Duke Energy will bring greetings from our business community, Ms. Schurz. Ms. Seixas: Good morning everyone distinguished guests and community members. I want to say a special thank you though in recognition, I have to believe of Dr. Williams family and friends who are here today, I have to believe in her heart she knows that you are right up here next to her. So, thank you all for being here as well. It’s with it’s with great pride that I am joined you this morning to bring greetings to Dr. Williams from our very diverse business community, from the beaches of Pass-a-grill, all the way up to the Sponge Docks of Tarpon Springs, the very same footprint the St. Petersburg College shares.
Duke Energy has shared decades of long partnership with St. Petersburg College and I know that under the leadership of Dr. Williams that that relationship will only continue to thrive. I know personally I have two assignments from her already. I also have the privilege as the chair of the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership to bring greetings and congratulations to Dr. Williams from my colleague chambers, those being the St. Petersburg chamber of commerce, the Clearwater Chamber of Commerce, Mid Pinellas Chamber of Commerce, the Tampa Bay beaches as well as the innovation district. From all of us we offer our support and our commitment to collaboration with Dr. Williams, her faculty, her staff as well as they work to educate the workforce that is going to continue to allow the Tampa Bay area to grow and thrive and enjoy prosperity. So, thank you and congratulations [Applause] Dr. Terry: Thank You Ms. Seixas. Mr. Brian Lamb is the chairman of the board of trustees for University of South Florida and is here to bring us greetings from USF, Mr. Lamb. [Applause]. Mr. Lamb: Good morning. To our platform, guests, to all of you here, our elected officials and most importantly to doctor and our president Williams. Thank you for the chance to bring you greetings from the University of South Florida. I’m very honored to be here today and I really will tell you it meant a lot to have the opportunity to come here on behalf of the University and make sure that this great institution this great community that St. Petersburg College serves has the support and commitment to continue to partner and have a mutually beneficial relationship with the University of South Florida. We are very fortunate to have well over 5,000 students that have come through these great hallways of St. Petersburg College that attend the University of South Florida. My commitment to the president is that we will continue our journey together to help you realize your plan for these students and your faculty in this community, to provide a resource for you to partner with the University of South Florida. You have my commitment to continue to be your friend and your ambassador here and abroad as you lead this great community in this great institution. This is an outstanding milestone and fantastic opportunity for this community to go to the next level and I would tell you you’ve got a leader that can take you there. You have an inspirational and transformational leader that has a track record of greatness. You have someone that is respected and trusted both on this on this college at this College as well as a the state of Florida, as you’ve seen many of the folks that are in the room today have came from a lot of different places, not just here in Pinellas County or even Tampa Bay, in fact, I was fortunate enough to strategically schedule this trip to come from Cincinnati, Ohio, where it is cold but I will leave you with this; to the President, to the Board of Trustees you have my commitment as chair of the board at the University of South Florida. That we will double down on our partnership, we will find creative ways to create intentional pathways for your students should they choose to come to the University of South Florida. We will make it easy to do business with and we will find ways to help these students realize their dreams, that is why we’re here, that is why we exist and you have my commitment Dr. Williams I’m incredibly proud to represent our University, I’m equally as proud to serve you in this great community. So, thank you and congratulations. [Applause] Dr. Terry: Thank You Mr. Lamb and now we welcome president Larry Robinson from Florida A&M University to the podium to bring us greetings from FAMU. president Robinson.
Robinson: Good morning everyone. He really meant FAMU so the Radisson… y’all can calm down. I heard it. First of all, I do want to correct one other thing I am here to bring you greetings on behalf of the State University System of Florida but obviously, I want to say a few things on behalf of Florida A&M University as well. And I also as Senator ruse on that sort of trying to put things in perspective. You know I often asked our students faculty alumni and others to envision the world in Florida when floating them University was founded 130 years ago in October 3rd 1887. And perhaps in this context you can think about where we are today with regards to Dr. Tonjua Williams as the president of St. Pete College. You can only imagine what the world was like here in Florida in 1927, how far we have gone. But the more important message to everyone here, to board of trustees and all of the constituents here associated with this College is, isn’t it wonderful what we can do when we put our isms aside and really look into the hearts and souls of people, the talent and the skills they bring to the table and think about how many people like Dr. Williams we probably missed somewhere along the way. And sometimes you know we pride ourselves and we should look far and wide for leaders, capable leaders, from all over the nation and in many cases all over the world. But sometime as was the case here, the person is right here in front of your nose right, and so I know you spend a lot of time on that search process but there was a lot of people in this room could have told you we had the person you need right here. But anyway, congratulations Dr. Williams I probably don’t need to say a whole lot more about that myself. But in the coming weeks months and years the fate of St. Pete College and its wonderful community as you alluded to last night will rest in your capable hands along with all those individuals here who work at this place, all of those individuals who support it from your board of trustees, your alumni, the corporate private sector, the legislature. It’s a tremendous responsibility when you think about it, all of these young people in their futures; you get a chance to mold them. And the people who are going to, when they sit here and brag about what you did and then you brag about the great things that they are out there in the world doing. It’s an awesome responsibility that you’ve been given as a leader and I know that that you’re going to more than exceed everybody’s expectations in terms of meeting these challenges. You know, leadership isn’t just about solving problems I often talk about sometimes leadership is about creating new problems right because from those new problems arise new opportunities.
And in the conversations and interactions that we’ve had I know that you’re that type of person you just don’t want to fix a flat tire, you want to invent a tire that doesn’t have a flat and so that’s the type of leader you are. Now you know there are some things I have to say on the behalf of the Board of Governors and I need to go ahead and say those because this might be being taped. So, last year the Florida Board of Governors approves a variety of strategies around the system to strengthen the 2+2 articulation agreements with the state college system. And as you know the 2+2 agreements are sort of like articulation on steroids but it really defines a unique task for students coming from state colleges into the SUS, State University system, so they don’t have to worry about it’s just the right course to take or that wasn’t the right course to take, all of that has been worked out in detail long before they get there. And so, this is something is that our Board of Governors is serious about, the Chancellor serious about, as well as our board of Trustees. And so, it shouldn’t surprise you that one of the first people to step up to the plate as we reached out at Florida A&M university to develop these agreements was none other than Dr. Tonjua Williams. Now there was just one mistake I made, I invited her to our Board of Trustees meeting to talk about this plan and I had to convince them that wait a minute this woman already has a job right, we’re the one with the interim president… but of course that’s what they were trying to fix. But anyway, her commitment and passion to students here. I think what drives her and she sees these two plus two agreements are another way for them to go beyond their own expectations and pursue opportunities far beyond what anybody might have imagined for them at the time we didn’t have high schools or at the time they were born. You know, you can see something special in Dr. Williams, you know it’s not fake it’s not artificial she really is committed. You can see and sense and actually taste the passion that she had for the success of students at this institution and I think with leaders like this, this community is going to do extremely well. In fact, I think it’s going to do a lot much better than any of us can imagine. I believe that although this institution has had great leadership over the years and I’ve met some of them and I had a chance to work with Bill Law when he was in Tallahassee, a great man did a lot of great things. But when they go back to the record some years in the future and look at what happened during the tenure of Tonjua Williams, they’re gonna see some remarkable transformation that took place in the behalf of this community because, ladies and gentlemen, you have chosen a remarkable leader. Thank you very much.
Dr. Terry: Thank You president Robinson. Our next speaker is Dr. Michael Grego superintendent of Pinellas County Schools, Dr. Grego. Dr. Grego: Dr. Williams, madam president you have always been a part of the Pinellas County Schools family, haven’t you? You’ve attended Maximo elementary school, Tyrone middle school and she graduated from The Boca Ciega High School. Her success exemplifies the power of public education. It’s a great honor to be part of this historic occasion and I thank you for the invitation. If we reflect upon all of the things that we’ve heard thus far and if we examine Dr. Williams’s journey to the presidency of St. Pete College; it’s a story of strength, it’s a story of perseverance and I believe it’s also a story of hope. She’s a keen example of what happens when a family and a community values education, in fact, it was her mother’s desire and determination that Dr. Williams and her siblings get a good education. It’s because of that foundation that Dr. Williams graduated from high school then from college and then earned a master’s degree and then a PhD. And we know that each and every step of the way it took strength, it took perseverance and it also took a willingness to create a greater future. A 30-plus year career that we’ve heard about in St. Pete College where she started as a senior accounting clerk. It’s an example of strength, it’s an example of perseverance an example of vision. And I believe and I say frequently to my staff and to many of the teachers and faculty to blossom where you’re planted. Dr. Williams your roots in this community and your commitment to it’s institution shows that you believe in that saying too because you have certainly blossomed where you were planted. And as superintendent and on behalf of our Pinellas County School Board, our entire board, we know that with Dr. Williams as president we will continue to have a strong partnership with St. Petersburg College. Dr. Williams I will commit to you and will continue to nurture and to develop the future educators, future engineers and future college presidents. Our partnerships are many and will continue to thrive we have hundreds of students benefiting from the dual enrollment and early college program where they graduate not only from high school but they graduate with an Associate of Arts degree. We have an elite educator program that we have worked on in conjunction with the college, a program that prepares students to step into elementary teaching assignments where they’re fully endorsed. We share in the importance of financial aid nights in which St. Petersburg College lends us their staff and resources to better help families and young people and to understand the financial aid and the complexity of going from the high school to the next step. And then obviously, the small things that add up but they’re certainly not small the countless hours of tutoring and mentoring and volunteering that the college provides to support students in this community. These are just simply just a few examples of how we will continue and how we work together as a family. I’m excited about the future of Education in Pinellas County, I’m excited about the ability to work with an educator such as Dr. Williams. I will commit and say that together we will help students not only define their futures but define their goals through public education. Congratulations Dr. Williams.
Dr. Terry: Thank You Dr. Grego. Finally, we now get to hear from our own chairman of the board of Trustees here at St. Pete College, Mr. Nathan Stonecipher. Mr. Nathan: Thank you all. I’m gonna get a little more comfortable if you don’t mind. That cap feels like it’s gonna fall off every time I wear it. One of these days it will. What a joy it is to be here today, this is a day of celebration, this is way more fun than a board meeting am I right? Really, really, happy and privileged to be standing up here and I’ve learned a lot in the last two years as I’ve served on the board of trustees and I’ve also been humbled in many different ways. Every time I visit a campus or attend a meeting or talk to a student or talk to a faculty member I realize more and more with a very small piece of this very large machine this living organism that is St. Pete College, what a small piece it is that we are as a board. I’m grateful for the fact that everything runs so smoothly around us, this is a sign of great leadership and solid teamwork; everyone moving in the same direction and it’s something I think we’re gonna see a lot more of in the future. Those of you here may not know Dr. Williams and I shared a first last year, my first board meeting as chair was her first board meeting sitting in the president’s chair. I was nervous walking into that room and I thought dr. Williams would be equally nervous. So, right before the meeting I looked over in her direction just to get a little bit of comfort and support to see that little nervous twinkle in her eye, I didn’t get it at all. She had this strong courageous laser focus and she just, she looked at me like… I got this and I knew she did she’s not scared of much. Now while our role is small we do have a few very important jobs as trustees at the college, one of which is to vote and decide on who the president of the college will be. This is a long process with many steps but it’s critical of course for the future of our college but it was a frightening process. There’s a lot riding on this decision. We had a fantastic search team that narrowed the field after months of hard work and then our real efforts began. As a board we gathered information on the finalists, we did our due diligence, we interviewed the candidates, the five of us all approached things differently and I’m sure we all had our own ideas about the type of person that would best lead this college. But at the end of the day and we had many well-qualified candidates from all across the US, Dr. Williams rose above the rest. She was our unanimous pick for president which I think says a lot. It’s amazing that we had a unanimous pick for our next president yes, thank you.
So, what I want to do quickly is just give you a little bit of insight as to what we saw as we engage in this process. Dr. Williams knows where we’ve been and what we still have the potential to become as a college, she’s engaging in excels at communicating our vision, she stresses the importance of listening to the many different groups we have at the college and making sure everyone is heard, she displays an intimate understanding of our current realities both good and bad and proposes many specific fresh ideas as to how to continue moving us in the right direction, she’s passionate about pursuing ways to achieve greater efficiencies, she understands the need to become ever more flexible and nimble allowing us to add certificates degrees and coursework that change with our local business landscape, she understands that community involvement is paramount, always keeping our ear to the ground to ensure we’re meeting the needs of those who live and work right here in Pinellas County, she embraces her role as an advocate for our College, for our students, for our team and she tirelessly works to build relationships with local and state leaders. Dr. Williams has unparalleled perspective having worked in many different capacities at the college over the last 30 years. She puts the needs of others first and assist those around her to develop and perform at high levels. Dr. Williams displays trusts and her team, she inspires confidence and when the time is right she’s not afraid to make clear decisions. She shoots straight and does not sugarcoat difficult topics or sidestep tough conversation we all know that. But most importantly and above all else her focus has always remained on the students. It’s been crystal clear from day one that they were and are her number one priority. She has a heart for those enrolled no matter the age or where they come from and she recognizes their mission to better their lives she purposefully seeks to meet them where they’re at, she even cares deeply for our future student.
The student who hasn’t enrolled yet because they don’t think they’re able or they don’t know how they’re going to pay for it or they don’t have the time between two jobs and raising a family or they simply don’t believe yet that they can achieve something better, she cares for them too already. At her core Dr. Williams wants Saint Petersburg College to thrive so that our impact can be greater both in creating opportunities for generations of families in our area and in helping to make our community a more vibrant and dynamic place to live. These were qualities that are part of Tonjua’s fiber and that we are confident will continue to see on a regular basis as she serves as our new president. It’s rare to find a candidate for a position like this whose love of community equals their love for students and while these characteristics are nice it means little if the person that carries them can’t use them to effectively lead. I believe that we have found the right person to do that at this time in our history as a college to build upon what those that came before us have established. and let me tell you, I’ve watched her since day one and it’s like she’s been shot out of a cannon and she hadn’t slowed down, it’s hard for all of us to keep up. Finally, to Dr. Williams I’ll say this, there will be trials ahead, not everything we implement will go the way we imagined it there will be unexpected hurdles along the way. Allow these tests to purify and clarify your leadership role. Let these tests serve to teach us how to see greater success on the other side of our real-world education and by these tests let us all remain humble and focused on our mission together.
A Bible verse I often go back to and I kept thinking of as I was thinking of what I was going to say today is found in Jeremiah chapter 17, it says, “blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. They will be like a tree planted by water that sends out its roots by the stream and does not fear when heat comes for its leaves remain green and are not anxious in the year of drought for it does not cease to bear fruit” Dr. Williams, my hope for you is that your leaves remain green and we never cease bearing fruit for this college and community together. Thank you. [Applause] Dr. Terry: Thank You Mr. chairman for your words and for your great leadership of our board. I want to recognize our board of trustees also they are all community leaders who serve without compensation, devote many hours of service to our College and we were very grateful for all of you, thank you. Now Ms. Lynn Harris will introduce our new president. Ms. Harris knows Dr. Williams for longer than any of us because as many of you know she is her sister. So, welcome Ms. Harris. Ms. Harris: Good morning. I’m Lynn Harris. I’m her little sister, I’m gonna talk to you a little bit about my sister from our family’s perspective. You good with that? She was born a leader; her birth order is number one to which she often reminded us. So, long before she became Dr. Williams she had the official title of mama Tanya. So, if your last name is Harris Jones Lastra Shazel, you grew up around 27th Avenue South or you went to Southside Tabernacle Baptist Church in the 80s and the 90s, I see y’all out there you know mama Tanya pretty well. I’m sure that we inadvertently helped shape her into the awesome leader that she is today, this might not have been how she wanted it to go but it is how it went. She had the ability to manage resources because anything that she owned was indeed mine too. There’s a picture of me in my ninth-grade yearbook from Boca Ciega, the treasure chest, I’m dressed head-to-toe and all of her clothes. At the time she was a full five inches taller than me pretty sure she planned that my robe is a little long today, but if she had it I definitely wore it. She had the ability to deal with those that are strong tempered those that may have been a little bit less enthusiastic about whatever plan she developed for us for the afternoon or during those long summer days. We had a list of chores and I don’t know if you remember this, we had a table of chores that was supposed to decide who was going to do what on what day. It stood on the side of the refrigerator, damp from a little bit of water, a little bit of soap suds but we followed that plan that she developed even after she left and went to college we still follow that plan. If we had an argument about who was supposed to do what we went to the plan, she’s a strong leader.
There was a time when my — the only time that we ever went to at the same time at the same place I was in the first grade my brother was in the second grade. Tonjua was in charge of making sure not only me but the rest of the neighborhood kids got on the right bus because this was in the early 80s, late 70s, early 80s when there was still quite a bit of busing going on in Pinellas County. So, for us we’re six-year-old and an eight-year-old this is quite a long bus ride but my brother and I decided to be sneaky we were gonna hide, she just not gonna know we were on the bus. So, we got on the bus we hid in the back she got on got off again we’re looking through the window laughing as the bus pulled off. We didn’t have a good plan, by the time we got home we walked to the front door we got scared because we didn’t have a key. But Tonjua being a loving person that she is when she got home, I don’t even know how you got home, she didn’t yell at us, she didn’t scream at us she let us in the door and said if you ever, she got that laser-like focus, do that again… we never did it again. When I left for University of Florida I left with her blessing, my mama’s blessing and all of her clothes and shoes that I could hide. But the other important thing is that I left with 12 credit hours, 14 credit hours that came from a dual enrollment program that St. Pete at the time junior college had. I left with confidence, I left believing that I could accomplish what I set out to because I already had college credit. So, my charge to you big sister, continue giving us the confidence to succeed. So, although my undergraduate and law school degree both say University of Florida, go Gators, the very first entrant on there is from Saint Petersburg College and they were A’s Madam President. So, I give to you my momma Tanya, the big sister to many people in the community not just myself with all the love and enthusiasm she has not just for her family but also to her SPC family and the rest of the community mama Tonjua to me, Dr. Tonjua Williams to you.
Dr. Terry: Thank you very much Ms. Harris. This brings us to the moment of investiture. Assisting chairman Stonecipher, in the presentation will be the following Board of Trustees, our Vice Chair Ms. Katie Cole, Ms. Bridgette Bello and Mr. Deveron Gibbons. Also joining them will be two of our past presidents Dr. Carl M Kuttler jr. and Dr. William D Law jr., Mr. Stonecipher. Mr. Stonecipher: And I just would like to take a moment to thank Dr. Kuttler and Dr. Law for what they have helped us to establish here at St. Petersburg College over many years of hard work. So, if we can give them one more round of applause. [Applause] I would encourage you if you can to turn in your program, there’s a page that describes The Mace and The Metal and there’s some great outlines about the significance of both of those in the history of our specific pieces here today. These ceremonial pieces are symbols of the embodiments of the power, authority and autonomy vested in our president by this institution. First, I’d like to ask Dr. law if he could take the college mace and please present it to Dr. Williams. Thank you.
And Dr. Kuttler if you could please take the medallion and place it around Dr. William’s neck. Thank you very much. [Applause] And if Ms. Bello and Ms. Cole could please grab the gift from the trustees. Dr. Williams we put together a little something with the help of the St. Petersburg Museum of History. As you are native of this great city we had them find an original aerial shot of the St. Petersburg Gibbs campus and had them put it on this nice canvas for us they have donated it from the museum. This was actually taken in 1947 and we thought that be for you. [Applause] Thank you, we will put the mace back down for you dr. Williams, thank you. And Madam President, the podium is yours. President Tonjua: Well, they sure know how to set you up. I mean I’ve been Trustee Gibbons said, whatever you do, do not cry. Too late, that has already happened. Good morning. Audience: Good Morning. President Tonjua: Thank you so much for being here with us today. I stand before you with sincere humility and great honor to serve as a seventh president of St. Petersburg college.
I am so proud to continue the legacy of my predecessors, the presidents who have led our great College with distinction since its humble beginnings in 1927. There are so many people throughout my life who have invested their time, their talent and their treasure in the dreams that I have had to help me succeed. I proudly stand on their shoulders and acknowledge that I would not be here without their support and leadership. I dare not name them one by one because I am sure we’ll be here all morning but I have to say a few things to say thank you. One would be our MC Mr. Terry Brett, thank you for what you have done. To our Board of Trustees chair Stonecipher and the rest of the board, thank you for your confidence and Trust. To our former presidents Dr. Carl Kuttler and Dr. William Law, thank you for the legacy that you have built in the foundation that you have prepared for me to carry forward. To all of our platform guests, participants, speakers, college and university presidents who are here with me today, legislative delegates, friends and family thank you for being here. To the investiture committee Karen White wherever you are, Rebecca Turner, you guys are rock stars, thank you for all of this and the work that you have done to make this happen. To our honored guests, our St. Pete College family, my people. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I love you all and because of the work that you do, the passion you have, the commitment you have made our students are succeeding, thank you for everything that you have done. There are two other people that I have to give serious gratitude to, one is in heaven that’s, Willie Harris, my mother. She probably is the strongest woman I’ve ever known, she had a vision and she wanted to make sure that her family moved forward and had a better life than she did and she did everything she could to make that happen. I stand here today because of her.
She really would have been so proud today and I know that my father, Paul Giselle is in the audience today and I want to thank you for everything. And those who know me there is a man in my life. God was number one and he is number two, that’s Derek Williams if you a stand. Thank you for being my confidant, my critic, my evaluator, my supporter, my cheerleader and the person who helps me get dressed every morning. If I look good it’s because of him. And to my mother-in-law Miss Margaret Williams, you have stood in the gap for me when I lost my mom. Thank you. And I have several family out there from Wynette Lassiter, Champ Chazelle, my sister, so many of you who are here friends and family who come from close by and afar. It means a lot to me that you are all here. Thank you so much. But ultimately, we’re here today to celebrate St. Petersburg College an institution that has been the foundation I believe of our community for over 90 years. You know St. Petersburg College started with a group of residents back in 1920 who really wanted to provide education to individuals who had little means, individuals who are the underdogs, the folks who were working hard, may not have all of the things that everybody else grew up with, may have grown up with little but these residents felt like they deserved to be educated. And in 1927, St. Petersburg College was born. Very small institution had very few students but had presidents at that time with a big vision that really wanted to make people have a better life and make sure that they earned a living wage. In the history it talks about making sure they had skills it sounds. It so much like today, making sure that our residents have skills. And so, I want to talk to you a little bit about St. Petersburg College. When we opened our doors in 1927 as St. Pete Junior College there was nothing junior about us. We always came out the door with speed and ready to roll up our sleeves to do what needed to be done, our title had jr. in it but we were already a senior institution believe that. We are proud to be Florida’s first Community College, we’re the first State College, the first to offer baccalaureate degrees and the list goes on and on. We strive on being number one, the most innovative, the most creative, the quickest, the fastest and we do that because we have the best faculty in the land I can tell you that now.
Our faculty are so dedicated to our students in trying to figure out what’s the secret sauce, how do we make this work, what do we do differently and better. In 1965, St. Petersburg Junior College merged with Gibbs Junior College. Gibbs Junior College was the second junior college for Negro residents already trailblazers and when the two came together we made a commitment to make this County the best in the state, the best in the nation. We merged staff and students to make St. Petersburg Junior College serve not only the city of St. Petersburg but the county, all of Pinellas County real proud about that because that commitment was born through that merger. You know we have always stood shoulder-to-shoulder with our community in its development. It is this legacy of educating and strengthening our community that we continue to uphold and build upon. I strongly believe in the power of education and the work we do here at St. Petersburg because it transforms lives it fulfills dreams and it improves families. You’ve heard about my history, you’ve heard about where I came from the Boca Ciega high school, we were just Boggie back then. But at Boggie we were taught that there’s nothing we can’t do regardless of our circumstance, whether you’re on free and reduced lunch or you come from a family that can pay for lunch the food all tastes the same. Our bellies were filled the same, the knowledge that was poured in our heads was the same but guess what some of us did not get that extra support to go forward and some of us landed in places we did not belong. At St. Petersburg College all of our students belong, all of our students belong. See, the beauty about what we do at St. Pete College is that we don’t wait for you to be college ready, we don’t wait for you to have the high SAT scores and the high you know ACT scores, we believe in all of that but our mission is to bring you in where you are and take you where you want to go, that’s what we’re here to do, that’s our job. And do we have challenges? Yes, our faculty are serving as much as 30 students that went to one time who have various abilities and they have to help them all gain the same competencies, it is a tough job but it is a rewarding job when you see 2,000 students walk across the stage and say I made it and know that they’re going somewhere else to finish. This May we are going to graduate over 2,000 students at St. Petersburg College. In May 1300 of them have signed up to walk across the stage, I think that’s worth celebrating. We look forward to our future, we have been built on very strong foundation and there’s three pillars that we want to look at going forward.
Our board of trustees worked very hard in December to really set up three commitments that they would like the college to make their decisions on going forward. One of those commitments would be academic excellence, see students come to college to learn did y’all know that? Yeah, yeah, now that learning could be inside the classroom or it could be outside of the classroom, there’s learning that requires you to take tests and show that you’ve understood the knowledge and there’s other types of learning that bring experiences to your life that you may not have ever had. Our faculty will rise to this challenge to make sure that we exhibit exude and offer academic excellence where we will teach in various ways that students will learn differently. I am a visual learner you got to show me something for me to capture it. Some of you may be able to be like my sister she reads it one time and she got it, I’m not that kind of learner. But if we’re going to exhibit academic excellence we have to understand who our students are, we have to understand how they learn and then we have to be creative and innovative on how we teach and what we do in that classroom. To do that, we need to understand that many of SPC students come from five poverty areas of Pinellas County. You guys know that we have five poverty areas? Well I know that the city of St. Peter’s working on Midtown, I know there’s a 2020 plan. St. Pete College has to know the whole county because our institutions are throughout all of Pinellas County and we’re right smack dab in the middle of those poverty areas. So, we know that we have to understand and appreciate more than one city, we have to be the county’s College because our students come from the entire county and beyond. To provide academic excellence we have to know that we have single parents out there who have worked two jobs. They may be sleeping in class but it’s because they’re hungry, they haven’t eaten, they haven’t rested.
There are reasons why our students struggle but you know what, St. Pete college students they thrive, they rise and grind, they put into work so that they can succeed, they too have a dream, they too have desires, they too want to live a good life. Academic excellence is what they need because students don’t graduate from financial aid, they graduate from a class, they graduate from a program, that’s what they graduate from. There is no one walking across the stage in May and say, “whoo I graduated from admission” no, they’re gonna say professor so-and-so was so good to me. They’re gonna say I got this program I’m doing it. I’m going to make it my family will live a better life. Thank you, St. Petersburg College, for believing in me. Thank you for investing in me that’s what academic excellence means to us. It is to make sure not that we just teach is to make sure that students are learning. See when I grew up when you are tall enough to reach the stove you were cooking. Okay that’s just how Fanime Jones did it and that’s how Willie Harris did it and we were already gaining skills to help us be self-sufficient so that we know how to do what we know how to do. But here’s the thing, if you have learned you need to teach someone else how to learn that’s how this goes, that’s what we do, that’s how we do what we do. We ensure that our students are in a better condition by engaging us than they were before they came. We make sure they gain those competencies, those skillsets, whether it’s something with an internship or it’s a shadowing opportunity or it’s real life that they’re doing the work that’s our job, academic excellence is where we’re going, that is what we do, that is the crux of what we do. The second thing, we need to make sure that our students are economically mobile. That they are moving from one level to the next, we are the pathway to the middle class, that’s what we do. We help people have a better life, if you have an SPC diploma certificate on your wall you should be making money that’s how this is supposed to work. You should not be in the same situation you were before you earned that credential. So, guess what we are moving forward on improving the type programs we offer, we’re looking at certificates more to help people get jobs and those certificates are embedded in our diplomas and degrees so students aren’t starting over.
We have been partnering more with Pinellas County Schools to take Pinellas Technical College credits at SPC, so students who get jobs and plumbing somewhere that’s going to fit at SPC so that they can move forward into a better trajectory so that they can keep growing. We are partnering with the University of South Florida and beyond to make sure that our students can get out of poverty and into prosperity and we’re doing this intentionally, purposefully and strategically. This is not going to just happen and fall out of the sky, this is something that all of us in this room will have to invest in to make sure that residents in Pinellas County gain economic mobility, get a better job that we decrease those five poverty areas and we help people be self-sufficient, that’s what this is all about. I have never heard a student say, “I can’t wait to go to college to be broke” not one time, they have a plan and that plan ends with money in their pockets that’s where it ends. So, if we are not here to help students gain economic mobility, build the pathway to middle class, help people go from poverty to prosperity we need to close the doors because that’s what we’re here. When I went to college did you really think that I went to college to be poor? None of us did and we need to not treat each other that way. The other piece with economic mobility is partnering with our community. There are a lot of resources and services that we have some of them are duplicated, some of them we can tweak and do better with but SPC has to be the giver and the recipient so that means we’re in this together. Because if our students and our residents gain some sort of education our communities are going to be better that’s the bottom line. Education is the key and that’s what we need. We’re partnering with Duke Energy, Takedata and the list goes on and on to bring those creative and good partnerships so that students can get jobs that’s what this is all about, that is why I’m so passionate. Because colleges like ours even though Ms. Parker thinks hers is the best, Dr. Parker thinks that I appreciate that but we are sisters but I’m coming for you believe that. But we have some very exceptionally talented individuals in our community who still don’t know how to unlock the treasure chest, they still do not know how to reach their full potential. With economic mobility and partnering with our community from Tarpon, to Clearwater, to St. Pete, to Seminole, to Pinellas Park, to the beaches, to downtown, St. Pete, downtown Clearwater, everywhere we all need to get in this together. So, I lived and was born in St. Pete but Pinellas County is where I hang out. It is the larger group, it is where our students are coming from and going back and forward.
And so, if we’re not all in this economic mobility thing we’re going to continue to struggle as a county and so we need to do that. The third piece of our commitment is community engagement. Now community engagement is different than just partnerships. Partnerships is when two people come together, they have a common thing they are going to do it together. Engagement means we’re going to come and roll up our sleeves and help paint the houses, we’re going to get involved and provide civic engagement, we’re going to help do what the community is trying to do we are going to be active participants not a college on the corner, we’re not a college on the corner we’re members of the family, we’re all in this together. And so, guess what our students we work in the soup kitchens, we’re in the Ronald McDonald house, we’re all over the place. Habitat for Humanity’s we’ve helped build houses you know why? Because some of our students live in them. We’re investing in our community all of them not just one and I think I was told we have like 24 municipalities in Pinellas County, guess what SPC gonna get to know every last one of them. As a matter of fact, we plan to be the catalyst for community convening to set the vision, to set the tone so that we don’t have to go to this mayor find out about this what he’s trying to do, this mayor what she’s trying to do, let’s just come together as a mayor group to talk about what we’re trying to do in this county. Because our constituents move very very often between areas and what’s really sad is that our folks who live in poverty they just move into poverty somewhere else and that’s the truth. Well, if we are the community’s college and we are here to ensure that people have access to education and we are here to provide an opportunity for people to change their lives and we are here to make sure that generational poverty doesn’t continue. Then guess what, we need to do this together, this has to happen now, right now, right now. The person who is standing before you, was born and raised in poverty and you know what’s so sad I didn’t know we were that broke. I thought everybody lived that way until I went to college and then I found out, “oh, okay, we are negro”. Now my mother and all her wisdom would never say we broke but there were things happening in our world that I knew something was wrong, I knew it was wrong but I also knew it was a life I did not want to live and it was a life she did not want us to live. Our students come for change, they’re bringing their best to you as minimal as it may seem they are bringing what they have. And they are looking to you to invest in them to say, “Am I worth your time? Am I worth a little extra help? Do you see me? Am I a hidden figure?” I want to be visible because you know what when I’m done and gone they’re gonna be the leaders of this world. Don’t we want to equip them with what they need to be successful that’s what we do, we stand in the gap.
We help provide what they don’t have so they can get what they want. That’s what this is all about. So, for St. Petersburg College we are here to stay. We are going to be more active, more engaging and we’re going to bring our A-Game to change this county and to be a part of the vision that we all want to see. No longer can we sit back and act as if poverty and equity don’t matter. No long can we sit behind the desk and think that people are not hungry. No longer can we sit behind and watch people sleeping on the ground and not trying to figure out how can we improve this situation because it’s them today could be me tomorrow, believe that. We’re only one incident away from disaster, it takes one incident and your world is topsy-turvy. While our students they come with obstacles, they come unprepared. Our students are average age of 27, I think in December we graduated a 60-year-old an 8-year-old. They’re young and they’re old but they’re still thriving and they’re still trying to move it make it happen that’s why I love this institution so much, that’s why I love the people I work with, they’re awesome folks who have heart, yeah they have grit and they’re just perplexed trying to figure out how do I help this, student how do we do this? Well, I could tell you one way we do this. One, we have to do it together we cannot do this work alone. Two, we have to give up our old beliefs, that students who are the underdogs can’t learn, we have to say everybody can learn, everybody can learn, everybody can learn, everybody can learn, everybody can learn. It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to get there it’s getting there that matters, that’s what we do.
Believe that everybody can learn, take the time and invest because you’re investing in yourself when you do that. Because what you give off comes back to you. Believe me at times when I was struggling people who I helped along the way came back and held me up. They say, “I got your dog, don’t worry about it” that’s why I’m here. It’s to lead but it’s also to serve, it’s also to make sure that our employees have the best experience as well because they’re working hard, they’re working hard to make sure students are successful. And I’m just blessed to be here and I want to thank you for taking time to share this historic moment with me today. Thank you, Board of Trustees, thank you all of our platform guests who came and spent time, thank you, faculty and staff I know that many of you are off today so that really means a lot to me that you would take your time. Friends and family, if my family could just stand up real quick so you guys could just be acknowledged I love you all just stand up. [Applause] And I want to leave this with you and I tell my staff all the time, St. Pete College is not the 13th grade. We’re the plan not to fall back.
Dr. Terry: It’s always nice when Dr. Williams walks to the podium with a prepared speech she reads the first sentence and then it’s just— she never looks back at that speech again and you can see why she’s as good as she is. An individual that probably does not need an introduction Mr. Deveron M Gibbons. [Applause]. Mr. Gibson: I was about to start an internet movement; the Chairman didn’t want to pull this thing out for me pull it out for the lady’s. I was wondering what was going on thank you Mr. Brett. As you can see this is this is my chair. Stonecipher you guys pick it up. So, let me just tell y’all everybody knows that I’ve follow very few rules so I know Karen White is pulling her hair out right now because I’m the son of a Baptist minister so either this is gonna be a mini sermon or we’re gonna take up an offering. So I got to make some Corrections. I don’t know how many of you watch pardon me interruption on the show you know at the end of that show on ESPN there’s like some Corrections that have to be made. So, let me make these corrections right now before we leave because I’m supposed to close the ceremony I don’t want you to leave with the wrong impression. Lynn her sister has been getting me in trouble for a long time so when she said go Gators I just nodded my head, Dr. Robinson, I didn’t really mean that because I won’t try to see that my robe is orange and green. I fought a very long time to get the FAMU and I bleed orange and green Commission so I just want you to know that and this is my president, so I don’t want to get in any trouble. The second thing is that Dr. Robinson my president was right. I told y’all but we didn’t have to go through this process she’s the president. Look at what we got.
And finally, before I make the actual closing remarks I know why she wanted me to go last, because the last time I went before her I asked her to sell a plant to try to sell St Petersburg College. So, you see this plant down here she thought I was gonna say Dr. Williams would you interview one more time to sell this plant at St. Petersburg College.
To my sister Dr. Williams, she talked about growing up I grew up in their household on many a days she was my babysitter and I’m proud to say that. I was bad I never listened to Tonjua, lynn and them always were in line I always did the opposite. But Tonjua was patient with a bad little boy like me. So, I’m gonna read something and then I’m gonna sit down and let us leave this place. Freedom, it’s called Freedom Law by Charley’s F. Freedom they say we’ll never get it. I believe when people hear the colored side of the story injustice anywhere is an insult, to justice everywhere. They chant and throw objects but I’m not giving up. All night if I if I feel like I could walk all night for freedom I’m gonna never give up. Cops yell and block the roads and order people to go back, groups of Caucasians chant in our faces and a hold of signs but all I can say is keep walking. There’s a story that this reminds me of that I read in one of the books that I was reading about the reconstruction of America and they talked about the Civil War. And there was a man that was a slave his name was Obadiah and Obadiah was a slave on a farm in South Carolina. And one night, Obadiah just prepared himself to no longer be a slave, he left his family in the middle of the night and he crossed over three or four states holding camps every night to get to be able to fight for the north for his freedom.
He thought that if he could get there and he could fight for his family’s freedom that he could change his young son’s life. But what Obadiah did not know was that when he left the farm. His son did probably what my son would have done is he followed him and he didn’t let his dad know he had followed him. As the camp— when he ended his camp every morning to beginning to walk toward the fight for freedom his son would pick up the scraps and eat the scraps so he would be have nourishment to carry on and follow his dad. And finally, Obadiah got to the battlefield and he ran out on the battlefield not knowing that his son Josiah was in the woods watching him as he fought for freedom. Obadiah was not trained to fight for battle, he knew nothing about battle, he knew nothing about war he just wanted to be free. Obadiah ran out and charged and picked up a gun from some folks who had passed before him and died he ran out with the bayonet and he was stabbed and he falls down. As the battlefield clears Josiah goes out and says “dad”, stands over him and says, “dad why did you come out here? Why did you leave us in South Carolina?” and he said simply looked up at Josiah and said, “for your freedom son”. In our December of 1963, Tonjua Williams was born. She entered the battlefield by going to Kathy Walker school, Maxima Elementary, the Boca Ciega High school, Clearwater Christian college, USF, Barry University. Along the way on her battlefield as she fought and prepared herself to be ready for war or ready for battle she lost as we affectionately call the Fannie Mae Jones, her grandmother, she lost her mother, Willie Jones Harris, as we all do lose some people on the battlefield. So, if this story is gonna be told it will be called from, Clerk To President, prepared to fight for freedom. The fight is with ease and alacrity for her because she’s prepared. She fights for the freedom of religion, she fights for the freedom of hope and opportunity, she fights for the freedom to learn, she fights for the freedom to strive, she fights for the freedom to be talked, she fight for the freedom to be better, to move from poverty to prosperity. In closing, Tonjua Williams entered the battlefield prepared she won’t die on the battlefield because she’s prepared she’s been wounded sometimes she’s been hurt sometimes but she’s prepared. Where are you with her on the battlefield?
Dr. Terry: Thank you all so very much for being with us today. I just have a couple of folks that I need to thank. These great festivities were put on by a group of people some of them were from our community some of them were from the college. Our community members were Ken Burke, Deveron Gibbons, Nathan Stonecipher and Ann Taylor. From our College Amelia Carey, Dr. Jesse Coraggio, Dr. Pat Rinard, Jean Trimble, Rebecca Turner, Dr. Shannon Ulrich. We also had a larger college family that were helping out on these events Rita Farlow and Ashley Gebler. Our fearless leader through all of this as was mentioned before is Dr. Karen White who did just a wonderful, wonderful, job in putting a lot of moving pieces together. And one of those moving pieces was to make sure that there was not one penny of college money used for any of these activities and celebrations. That means the security guards from St. Pete College that you saw out in the parking lot today they have been paid by the investiture committee. This beautiful facility which is owned by the college we paid the rental fee to use the facility today not one penny of any college money was used for any of these activities. They were all paid for by our generous donors which is on the last page of your program. We went out to businesses, individuals, and I’ve got to say and Deveron will conquer it was the easiest money we ever had to raise, it was wonderful. And just so you know because Karen White is our leader we will come in under budget and any money that is leftover by request of Dr. Williams will be going to the St. Pete College Foundation to fund scholarships. [Applause] I also want to thank our platform guests and all of the different folks, friends, family honored guests who came from so far to be here today we are very, very, blessed that you took the time and made the effort to be here. I know that Dr. Williams has something for Karen and for Rebecca if you could come up please. President Tonjua: If a Dr. White, Ms. Turner, Rebecca wherever you are, all righty. Anybody who knows Karen White knows that she is very detailed-oriented and Karen has spent a lot of time herding cats and I was one of the cats. Every time, “you do not want to do that, Tonjua you’ve got to do this…” and I just want to acknowledge her and Rebecca Turner. Rebecca has had to constantly tell me what I need to do and what I what what has to happen and if you know Rebecca she’s very sweet and kind and she just smiles and say, “well you should…” and so I just want to thank them. [Applause] Dr. Terry: Please stand and join in the singing of our alma mater which will be led by Ms. O’Berry. The words to our alma mater on our on page seven in your program then please remain standing for the benediction which will be given by Dr. Glenn Money senior pastor at First Baptist Church here in St. Petersburg. And then following the benediction please remain in place until the platform guests and faculty have recessed St. Petersburg, St. Petersburg To thee we sing our song, Although in foreign lands we roam For thee we’ll always long. The happy hours spent in thy halls, The friendships made years will recall, And all our lives we’ll loyal be, St. Petersburg, to thee.
Dr. Glenn: Madam President congratulations. I love your affinity for words that start with C, let me add one more calling then we borrow from the language of ministry. I am glad that the calling was wisely extended to you and she graciously accepted it and I know the calling God has on your life as president and we pray for that today. It is against the context of that calling that I offer this prayer. Gracious God we give thanks for all that we have witnessed and participated in this morning. It’s with confidence and joy that we have affirmed and blessed and celebrated Dr. Williams and all for her elevation and her ordination to this great challenge. We come to praying today knowing that these significant and sacred moments have borne testimony of the intertwining of her preparation and her persistence and her passion with your Providence and purpose. Because of this Destiny’s will be changed, lives will be touched and this Beloved Community that serves our beloved community will continue to be built and broadened. On the journey ahead, it is our prayer for president Williams, that you father your hand will give her strength and protect her, that your voice will comfort and guide her, your heart will consume her and your will lead her as she leads her people. Now today may she know the past as a foundation and not an anchor. May she know the future is a joy and not a burden and may she hold the present in steady hands like ordinary clay about to become a masterpiece and go with God in whose name we pray. Amen.