My 26-year Love Affair

My 26-year Love Affair

Martha Hitt on why she fell — and keeps falling — in love with UCF.

You could say that coming to UCF was kind of like a blind date for me.

I knew very little about the suitor. When John learned about the job opening for a president, I had never heard of UCF or been to Orlando.

And I wasn’t entirely sure who I would be in this relationship. I could see John as president of a university, but I had not thought of myself as a “first lady.”

When John and I came to Orlando for an interview, I found the guidance I needed. The people on the search committee made me feel right at home. We made treasured friends then and in the years after, including Al and Nancy Burnett, who not only hosted us in their Maine home on several occasions but also funded our on-campus home, the Burnett House.

You could say our UCF courtship was a hit from day one. I got a glimpse then of the character and spirit of UCF and the people who make this place so special. Though that was 26 years ago, and UCF has grown so much over the years, the university has remained a place of unbounded potential.

In that way, it reminds me of the city of Houston, where John and I grew up. My childhood home was less than two miles away from Rice University (then Rice Institute), where I first found going to football games with my dad — a geologist who worked for an oil production company — was great fun. Across the street from the Rice campus was the Texas Medical Center, which eventually became the largest medical complex in the world.

At that time (and probably still), Houstonians believed they could accomplish anything. That same find-a-way spirit permeates UCF, and it is easy to be taken with such a positive outlook on life.

Many people ask John and me what he believes is his proudest achievement. The approval of the UCF medical school is certainly one of them. It meant UCF was more than just a good local university. I was honored and proud to be there beside John and representatives of UCF when the Board of Governors voted. So many people had said it couldn’t be done. It certainly would have been difficult to imagine such a thing transpiring when we arrived here in 1992, but everyone here persevered and made it happen.

Over the years, I’ve found so many reasons to fall in love with UCF again and again. Two such moments involve the football team. Winning the Peach and Fiesta bowls were such proud moments for us — and made people across the nation take notice. Members of our family attended both games along with UCF fans. It was such a joy to celebrate with them, and seeing the fabulous smile on John’s face at the awards ceremonies truly said it all.

While it’s impossible to single out the proudest moments with so many to choose from, watching how the UCF community — and especially the students — responded to the unimaginable tragedies at Pulse in Orlando and Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, made my heart swell. There were so many emotions, too many to comprehend. Yet this community stood together to grieve and support each other and those beyond our UCF family. I could not be more touched, nor do I know how to express my admiration for each of you.

Moments like these make me grateful to be part of the UCF family. I’ve loved having the opportunity to watch, meet and get to know many, many people who make UCF the truly remarkable place that it is. From our students, who often overcome so much to earn a degree, to our faculty and staff, who each play a critical role in UCF’s success, I consider myself blessed to be part of this university and all the people who make it so special. You will always have a place in my heart.

Thank you for providing me with so many reasons to love — and keep falling in love with — UCF.