The UCF family and Central Florida community celebrated John C. Hitt’s 25th anniversary as the university’s president Wednesday with many presentations and a special award for the president and his wife, Martha.

During a packed celebration at the Student Union, speakers such as Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and longtime UCF staff member Maggie LeClair lauded the Hitts for their impact on UCF and the entire Central Florida region.

The celebration concluded with the Hitts receiving UCF’s Honorary Alumni awards. Honorary Alumni status recognizes outstanding service and philanthropy to UCF; lifelong devotion and loyalty to the university; and upholding the UCF creed of integrity, scholarship, community, creativity and excellence.

During the afternoon celebration and in a special message sent out on Wednesday morning, President Hitt thanked UCF’s faculty and staff members. He credited them for working “tirelessly to ensure our students realize their dreams.”

“While I have learned many things during my tenure as president, one stands above all others: No one succeeds on their own,” Hitt said. “You – UCF’s talented and dedicated faculty and staff members – are the reason our university has become a destination of choice for the best and brightest students, colleagues and partners. Together, we have created a culture in which we do more than wish for success. We plan for it, then make it happen.”

Hitt, who was the first in his family to attend college, has greatly increased students’ access to a high-quality, affordable education. UCF’s enrollment has tripled during his tenure. He has conferred nearly 250,000 degrees, accounting for more than 80 percent of all degrees awarded since UCF began classes in 1968.

“It is my distinct privilege to honor an extraordinary president of this great institution, and one of the most important leaders in my opinion in all of Central Florida in the past 25 years,” said Marcos Marchena, chairman of the UCF Board of Trustees.

“Some would say we have been lucky. I choose to believe we have been blessed to have Dr. Hitt and his not-so-secret weapon, Martha, leading our university for the past 25 years. John’s vision, integrity and willingness to work with other institutions, both public and private, have made UCF a key participant in our community’s development.”

Through the years, Hitt has been recognized as the Orlando Sentinel’s Central Floridian of the Year, among America’s 10 Most Innovative College Presidents (2015), and is consistently listed among the Orlando Sentinel’s 25 Most Powerful People in Central Florida.

Nationally, Hitt is one of the all-time leaders among public university presidents who has conferred degrees at a single school. In addition, he is currently the longest-serving president in the Florida State University System. He ranks third among the longest-serving presidents in Florida SUS history.

Jacobs, Dyer, the Faculty Senate and the Student Government Association all issued proclamations honoring the Hitts.

Dan Ward, chair elect of the UCF Alumni board and a member of Hitt’s first class of graduates in 1992, commended the couple before presenting them with the Honorary Alumni award. Ward also said in the future the award will be given in the Hitts’ honor.

“Today, on the 25th anniversary of the black and gold’s most dynamic duo, a grateful community knows we are better because of you,” Ward said. “We also know that you are better because of each other. And, because you have made us part of your family, it is with great joy and pride that we take the step today of officially making you part of ours.”

President Hitt expressed his gratitude and quickly urged the audience to look toward the future.

“Martha and I are humbled by the kindness you have shown us regarding this anniversary,” he said. “I’m standing here marveling at how these past 25 years have passed so quickly…and joyfully. Thank you to all of the colleagues, partners, and — most importantly — students who have made the past 25 years so special. Like with all anniversaries, today’s is infused with nostalgia. It’s a potent and powerful feeling. But more powerful is the belief I have in the future. Our future. And my belief is that for our beloved UCF, the best is yet to come.”


What they are saying

“Through Dr. Hitt’s leadership UCF has become a school that attracts talented, ambitious and diverse students from near and far. It is a place where students go to not only continue their education, but also thrive. A place where they can foster new relationships, explore their interests and gain experiences that will open the doors to their future.” – Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs

“Without UCF and Dr. Hitt’s 25 years of leadership, Orlando, Orange County, all of Central Florida might not be one of the nation’s fastest-growing regions as it is today.” – Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer

“Mr. President, let me first start with an apology. I know your humility makes you averse to praise. I know it is your wish for this day to be less about you and more about this university. However, I find it impossible to talk about the success of UCF without you. I have had the privilege and honor to speak after you on various occasions and each time I am left inspired by your leadership.” – UCF Student Body President Christopher Clemente

“The university has made great advances under his leadership including an expansion of programs, facilities, student access, faculty hires and achievements.” – Professor Keith Koons, chair of the UCF Faculty Senate, reading from a resolution passed unanimously by the Faculty Senate.

“I must confess that when I started work at Florida Technological University eons ago I was not sure I would stay. The university was in its embryonic stage. And after gradual improvements John and Martha Hitt arrived and the university went into overdrive and improved beyond even my wildest imagination…Thank you, John and Martha for this E-ticket ride.” – Maggie LeClair, university employee since 1974 and currently assistant to the dean of the College of Sciences.

“Dr. Hitt Is a true embodiment of forward thinking and recognizing the true power of scale and how it can be utilized to impact the students we serve and the Central Florida community at large. – Darrell Johnson, assistant dean for the College of Business Administration.

“President Hitt has been a key driving for change, innovation and positive influence in the community. He is always encouraging of those around him and inspires students to dream big and partner with each other regardless of differences. Knowing President Hitt has drawn me closer to realizing my dreams and knowing how important partnership and collaboration can be to making a positive impact for those around me. I appreciate his humble spirit and example for the university to embrace change and charge on.” – Taylor Hutson, senior finance major scheduled to graduate this fall.

“President Hitt has been an inspirational figure for our university and the greater Orlando community. Impacting change and growth, his dreams have shaped the lives of thousands of students to prosper into leaders and activists. I aspire to be the president of a university one day, and he has been a role model to me advocating for diversity and inclusion and creating a top academic experience for students at this institution. – Alexis Szelwach, senior hospitality management major scheduled to graduate this spring.


Accomplishment Highlights

Nationally, Hitt is one of the all-time leaders among public university presidents who has conferred degrees at a single school. In addition, he is currently the longest-serving president in the Florida State University System. He ranks third among the longest-serving presidents in Florida SUS history.

During the course of 25 years, tremendous progress has been made in Hitt’s five strategic areas, including:

  • UCF’s enrollment grew from 21,267 in 1991-92 to 64,318 in 2016-17.
  • The average freshman SAT score rose from 1011 in 1991-92 to 1262 in 2016-17, and the average GPA of current incoming freshman is a 4.0.
  • Research dollars increased 413 percent, from $28.4 million to $145.75 million today.
  • Minority enrollment has grown to 44 percent of the student body.
  • Key partnerships include DirectConnect to UCF with state community colleges, the College of Medicine with Medical City at Lake Nona, and with the U.S. Department of Defense for the construction of buildings in Central Florida Research Park to support growth of the modeling and simulation industry.