Florida A&M, then, now and forever, was the message former university President Walter Smith brought to the Founders Day Convocation in Lee Hall on Tuesday.
Smith, the seventh president, came with one mission: to talk about FAMU like no one else has.
Smith spoke to an audience of about 250 students, faculty and alumni about how he and Benjamin Perry would play on the campus grounds and his conversations with Jake Gaither.
“He knew the people whose names are on our buildings,” said Pernell Mitchell II, a business administration student and royal escort. “He spoke with them. That is so amazing to me.”
Smith spoke on other FAMU founders, such as Thomas Gibbs and Thomas Tucker, who knew what they were doing when establishing a school with only 15 students and two teachers.
“They knew it was important to have technical skills and to also be intellectually developed,” Smith said. “They understood with growth and development we would be outstanding.”
He mentioned alumni such as Althea Gibson, who was the first black woman to win the Wimbledon title in 1956. Smith also mentioned that the first nursing degree program in the state of Florida began at FAMU.
In his closing remarks, he reminded the crowd that before integration, FAMU was the only institution in Florida where African-Americans could receive a college education.
Darius Young, assistant professor of history, said Smith’s words were powerful and brought a different perspective.
“He reminded us all of the foundation that was laid,” he said. “We are experiencing the benefits of today because of those who sacrificed before us.”