The piano thundered and thousands of new graduates and their friends and families sang the lyrics to the Florida State University “Fight Song” as Professor Thomas G. “Tommie” Wright delivered the summer commencement address on Aug. 11 at the Tallahassee-Leon County Civic Center.
Wright, a longtime music professor, who joined the Florida State University faculty in 1949 and has performed concerts with symphony orchestras around the world, delivered a uniquely lyrical graduation address through a combination of piano music, sentimental recollections and song.
“Graduates, you’ll be happy to know that I’m not going to give you a long speech this morning,” Wright said. “Instead, I thought you might enjoy a couple of songs out of the many songs that I have written and especially the songs for FSU.”
Larry Gerber, an accomplished and talented tenor soloist and professor of voice at Florida State, accompanied Wright, who played the piano onstage. The pair performed Wright’s exquisite Florida State “Victory March” as well as the raucous “Fight Song,” which Wright wrote in his early years at the university.
The words were printed in the program so graduates, faculty and parents could sing along in joyful celebration.
President Eric J. Barron, who presided over the ceremony — webcast at campus.fsu.edu/graduation — presented Wright with an honorary doctorate of music degree.
“Your most important legacy is intangible: The love and admiration of tens of thousands of Florida State alumni,” said Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Garnett S. Stokes, who read a citation before Barron draped a doctoral hood over Wright’s gown. “Your dedication to Florida State University for 60 years is without equal.”
About 1,314 Florida State graduates participated in the ceremony. Of those students participating, 919 received bachelor’s degrees, 323 received master’s degrees and 72 were awarded doctorates.
The ceremony marked another special occasion for Florida State: It was the first time the university saluted its graduating veterans with red, white and blue honor cords. Florida State is one of the first universities in the nation to introduce the cords at commencement ceremonies. This summer, 32 veterans and graduates of the university’s Army and Air Force ROTC programs have earned the cords, which are being offered by the Veterans Center.
Prior to the ceremony, Florida State’s U.S. Army ROTC commissioned four new second lieutenants on Friday, Aug. 10, at Harpe-Johnson Hall.
Also at the commencement ceremony, Nar S. Dalal was recognized as the Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry for the 2012-2013 academic year. A world-renowned physical chemist, Dalal is the Dirac Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Florida State. Dalal, who researches the workings of molecular magnets, is the 10th member of the university’s chemistry and biochemistry faculty to be selected as a Lawton Professor in the past 50 years.
The Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor award is the highest honor faculty can bestow on a colleague.
Wright, who taught more than 50,000 students at Florida State, penned the ubiquitous Florida State fight song in 1950. While at the university, he established the Gershwin Festival Concerts, and over the years presented more than 400 concerts of “An Evening with Gershwin” nationwide. He also worked as a producer, musical director, guest soloist and staff pianist for the major radio networks in New York City, which then aired popular music shows across the country.
From the earliest days of television, Wright was intrigued with the idea of using the new medium to educate viewers. He served on a gubernatorial task force that created the Florida Educational Network. Wright, who was the first person to present live broadcasts on that network, expanded his communications expertise into academia and for more than a decade directed Florida State’s Interdivisional Department of Radio-Television (which later became the College of Communication). He was also instrumental in the planning and construction of the WFSU-TV public television station.
In recognition of his many contributions, the Florida Legislature proclaimed April 14, 2003, “Professor Thomas Wright Day,” and in 2008 Wright retired from Florida State.
Each year the FSU Honorary Degree Committee, an advisory committee appointed by the president to represent the university community, considers nominations for an honorary degree. Any active or retired faculty member or any other member of the university community or friend of the university may suggest potential honorary degree recipients to the committee. Nominations are considered at any time of the year. In general, the committee intends to honor people of outstanding achievement who have gained national or international recognition or made a significant scholarly, creative, public, business, or humane contribution to the United States or to Florida State University.
“The years of service I’ve enjoyed with a great faculty at Florida State was the culmination of my whole academic career,” Wright told the crowd.
He also told the new graduates that he truly wished them well.
“I hope you will bring great credit upon Florida State University,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. “And don’t forget to join the Alumni Association. We have a lot of fun at meetings and there are chapters all over the country. And with that, I bid you adieu, Godspeed and goodbye.”