Florida State Distinguished Professor, ‘Black Hawk Down’ colonel to speak at Commencement

Stanley E. Gontarsk

Out of 3,000 fall 2008 graduates of The Florida State University, more than 1,800 will participate in two commencement ceremonies at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 13, at the Tallahassee-Leon County Civic Center. Graduates will represent 15 of the university’s 16 colleges. Florida State President T.K. Wetherell will preside at both events.

The 2008-2009 Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor, Stanley Gontarski, will speak at the morning commencement ceremony for graduates of the colleges of Arts and Sciences; Communication; Criminology and Criminal Justice; Medicine; Social Sciences; and Visual Arts, Theatre and Dance. Gontarski is a Florida State professor of English, editor, dramatist and internationally recognized scholar and critic. Before joining the faculty in 1988 he was on the faculties of Ohio State University; the University of California, Riverside; and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Dubbed the “dean of Beckett studies” by Ralph Berry, chairman of the English department, Gontarski is regarded as the authority on the work of Samuel Beckett, a celebrated Irish author, poet and dramatist during the 1900s. Besides authoring numerous published works, Gontarski held the position of editor of the “Journal of Beckett Studies” for nearly 20 years, served as guest editor for several celebrated journals and produced a book series in European literature and philosophy.

Danny McKnight
Danny McKnight

The guest speaker for the afternoon ceremony will be Col. Danny McKnight, a Florida State alumnus and retired U.S. Army Ranger who served for more than 28 years. He will address graduates from the colleges of Business; Education; Engineering; Human Sciences; Information; Motion Picture, Television and Recording Arts; Music; Nursing; and Social Work. In 1973 McKnight earned his bachelor’s degree in management as a Distinguished Military Graduate from Florida State and his master’s degree in higher education and administration from the University of Florida in 1985 while working as an assistant professor of military science in the ROTC department.

McKnight’s final assignment before retirement was as chief of staff for First Army, based in Fort Gillem, Ga. One of his numerous positions throughout his highly decorated career was as the commander of the 75th Ranger Regiment in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993 — an experience that was immortalized in the book and movie “Black Hawk Down.” Currently, McKnight travels nationwide as a motivational speaker.

In addition to the Dec. 13 commencement ceremonies, the College of Nursing and Army and Air Force ROTC will host the following events:

  • The College of Nursing’s Academic Convocation will be held in Tully Gym at 3 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 12. Degrees awarded will include seven Post-Master’s Nurse Practitioner Certificates, 16 Master of Science in Nursing, 34 Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing, and 67 B.S.N. James Whyte IV, an assistant professor, will speak.
  • Florida State’s Air Force ROTC will commission one second lieutenant at 10 a.m. in the President’s Sky Box at Doak Campbell Stadium on Dec. 13. The speaker will be Col. Jeff Spraggins, the Detachment 145 commander and professor of Aerospace Studies.
  • Florida State’s Army ROTC also will commission two second lieutenants Dec. 13, at 5:30 p.m. in the President’s Sky Box. James Whyte IV, assistant professor of nursing, will be the guest speaker.

On Sunday, Dec. 14, Florida State’s Panama City Campus will honor its graduates at a convocation ceremony at 2:30 p.m. CDT in the St. Joe Community Foundation Lecture Hall, Holley Academic Center, in Panama City, Fla. Out of 130 graduates, approximately 40 are expected to attend. The speaker will be Frank Hall, the president of the Panama City Campus development board and executive vice president/COO of Summit Bank. Florida State Panama City Dean George DePuy will preside.

The College of Law will hold its own commencement ceremony at noon on Saturday, Dec. 13, in Opperman Auditorium. About 28 of the 36 graduates will attend. U.S. Representative Kathy Castor will be the speaker. This will be the final December graduation ceremony for College of Law students; future December graduates will have the opportunity to walk in the spring ceremony.