The UCF community gave President John C. Hitt a heartfelt thank you Thursday during a reception honoring his 20th anniversary at the helm of the university.

Family, friends, faculty and others – both in person and in video messages – praised the service and dedication of the president, who led the university to national prominence as enrollment has jumped from 22,000 to more than 58,500 during the past two decades.

Rick Schell, vice president and chief of staff, told the audience that Hitt, the longest-serving president of the 11 state universities, has “the courage of an offensive lineman,” and Matt McCann, Student Government Association president, said Hitt is a “servant leader” who values the input of people around him.

“You were not only tall in stature, but also in vision,” said Roger Pynn, a Distinguished Alumnus Award winner and president of the Curley & Pynn public relations firm. “The community – all of  us – owe you an incredible ‘thank you.’”

Hitt returned the compliments to those in attendance at the packed Pegasus Ballroom of the Student Union.

“If you are fortunate enough to head a large and dynamic organization, people tend to credit you for much of the good that happens,” he said. “And, while such praise can be flattering, allow me to set the record straight. The achievements at UCF that coincide with my tenure have far more to do with you than with anything I could ever do.”

The president added that the steady pursuit of the university’s goals has defined the UCF of today. The greatest catalyst for the school’s success, he said, is the goal “to be America’s leading partnership university.”

Hitt also thanked his wife of 50 years, Martha, for her many contributions to the university and for being his “best adviser and the greatest joy of my life.”

The president left the audience with a key lesson he has come to understand in the years since arriving at UCF on March 1, 1992:

“If there is anything I have learned in 20 years, it is that our greatest danger is not to dream too large, but to dream too small. At UCF, we dream big. Our greatest limitations are those we place on ourselves.”

After the president’s comments, Olga Calvet, vice chair of the Board of Trustees, presented the Hitts with a bouquet of yellow Pegasus roses and framed side-by-side aerial maps of the campus taken in 1992 and 2012.

“You can see the amazing physical growth,” Calvet told them, “and most of all it symbolizes our progress in those 20 years.”

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