Then and Now
Brandon Aliberti: What was it like to attend UCF back when you were in school, Papa?
Gary Wright ’70: When [then Florida Technological University] opened, I had just graduated from Brevard Junior College. I was working third shift at Kennedy Space Center as a heavy equipment operator, so I could go to school during the daytime. They didn’t have night classes then. I would get off at 7 a.m. and drive to Orlando for an 8 a.m. class. It was hard to get classes scheduled back to back, so my favorite place to spend time was sitting in my car under the shade trees outside the library because that’s where everyone parked.
BA: With web courses and our schedules now, there’s a class time like every 10 minutes for me to choose from.
GW: We obviously didn’t have computers back then. I registered for classes in person. You’d schedule a time to register, stand in line and hope your classes were still available by the time you got to the front of the line. Especially when you were close to graduating, and you needed just certain classes — you were always sweating blood.
BA: Did you know immediately that you wanted to go to UCF when it opened?
GW: I played baseball and football in high school, and I had an invitation to try out as a walk-on for the football team for Memphis State [now University of Memphis]. If I made the team, they were going to give me a full scholarship. I was packing my bags to ride a bus all the way to Memphis when I got a call from the Brevard Junior College baseball coach, who offered me a baseball scholarship. I got to thinking maybe that might not be too bad — I could stay close to home, and I planned on getting married to your grandma. I played baseball for two years and then UCF opened up.
BA: What do you remember about your graduation ceremony?
GW: It’s been 50 years now, so my memories are not as sharp as they used to be. I remember it was at the Bob Carr Theater [then the Orlando Municipal Auditorium]. I was thankful I was graduating and getting my diploma. When I was working third shift that first year during school, it was really tough trying to balance everything. My grades slid that first quarter. To finally graduate and make the dean’s list the last six quarters — for me, that was amazing. The only way I made it through that was with your grandma’s support. I hope I’m around long enough to see all you grandkids graduate.
BA: I’m really looking forward to reaching that peak of the mountain and finally accomplishing my goal of earning my degree. When you chose to go to UCF, did you have any idea you were going to be starting our family legacy of UCF graduates?
GW: No, I really couldn’t have predicted this. Your grandma [Ann Wright ’84] graduated, and from then on it’s been an amazing run of watching the college grow and seeing our two children, Jeff [’96] and Jill [Aliberti ’92], graduate. They married UCF graduates, Matt [Aliberti ’92] and Natalie [(Malits) ’02], and now you’re about to graduate. Your sister, Brooke, is registered to start as a freshman this summer. My three other granddaughters have UCF on their radar big time. It’s really been a blessing that UCF is our family school. It’s given us a lot of wonderful memories.
BA: I think about all our tailgates and the trips we’ve taken to watch the football team. I’ve only missed one home game my entire life. Game days are like national holidays for us. What are some of your favorite memories?
GW: You’ve been going with us to football games pretty much as soon as you were born. Your mom and dad dressed you up as Charlie Brown for your first game — the Halloween game in 1998 against Youngstown State. We had to cover your ears with everyone screaming. Obviously, all the bowl wins have been a lot of fun. And J.J. Worton [’14]’s catch against Temple happened right in front of us. One of the most memorable games with you was the “Marshall Monsoon” game [in 2011]. [The rain] came straight down in buckets, but we stood there and watched that game and hooted and hollered and laughed. And waking up at 3:30 a.m. to go with you to College GameDay on campus, that was a lot of fun.
BA: To be a student during the winning streak and the championships was amazing. What has made it even more special is getting to intern in the athletic department with the content team. They took a chance on me — I came into that with very limited experience. I’ve learned so much about the inner workings of social media, what type of content to produce, engagement. It’s one of the things I’m most proud of during my time as a student, and to get this experience while working for a team I love — it doesn’t get better than that.
UCF is the only school I applied to. It was a no-brainer that I wanted to go here. I think we’re one of few families with three generations of Knights, and I feel really lucky to have a family like ours who is so passionate about UCF. And I have you to thank for that.
GW: I’m real thankful that you’re my grandson.