From rattlesnakes to Rattler Legacy: FAMU celebrates 129th Birthday

Photo Credit | Aldernico Brioch

It was on Monday, Oct. 3, 129 years ago that an act funded Florida’s first land grant institution for colored students among the rattlesnakes and rich green agriculture of Leon County. Since then, Florida A&M University has gone from 15 students and two teachers to 129 years of educational excellence as Florida’s first public Historically Black College or University.

Former university presidents, faculty, alumni, students, and staff were all in attendance at FAMU’s 129th Founder’s Day birthday convocation in Lee Hall on Monday. The university came together to recognize the many years FAMU has existed as a safe haven for black college students, and to look forward to where the university will be headed next.

As convocation began, FAMU Board of Trustees member Bettye Grable kicked off the festivities and wished the audience a Happy Founder’s Day. She urged all to remember the founders that birthed the FAMU legacy.

“Today we celebrate the founding of FAMU … I say this to you as I remind you of the two giants whose names we must speak today: FAMU’s founding president Thomas DeSaille Tucker and and FAMU’s founding vice president Thomas Van Renssaler Gibbs. I urge you to invoke these names often today in memory of the fact that (they) individually and collectively became the locomotives of FAMU’s long train of history,” Grable said.

Members from FAMU’s long train of history also turned out for the celebration and among those in attendance were former presidents Walter Smith, Frederick Humphries, and James Ammons.

Former president Smith honored all his fellow leaders and asked alumni, faculty, and students to look at the leadership FAMU has always had as the university makes its transition to current Interim President Larry Robinson. He said that it wasn’t just up to Robinson to carry FAMU’s legacy, but up to the students, alumni, and everyone else who makes a difference in the university.

“Larry made a difference then, and he will make a difference now … Rattlers and Rattlerettes, you are our future. When they talk about it 50 years from now, be sure that you have done what you should do to be sure that this institution is on the mend with the strength that’s necessary to continue to be one of the greatest in the world,” Smith said.

Robinson, who has served as a professor and researcher at FAMU for over 10 years, was the headline speaker for convocation. He couldn’t help but to start his speech with a little humor and said that it was almost ironic to speak in front of the past presidents as the university’s leader.

“It’s an honor and a privilege for me to be here and stand before these executives and act like I know something. It almost constitutes fraud,” Robinson said with a smile as the crowd chuckled. As he began to thank the past leaders at FAMU, he recognized the legacy of leadership that has kept the university afloat.

He testified to the audience that each and every president FAMU had a pure intention behind them. Robinson said that all the past presidents, including Dr. Elmira Mangum, were committed to doing what was best for the university and the community that it serves.

Robinson also echoed Smith’s sentiment that the students and leaders of the university are meant to serve the community and spread their resources out into the world.

“We are at a special place in our nation’s history at this very moment,” Robinson said. “Things playing out in communities throughout the nation will be what your generation talks about what was happening when you were in college, like so many of us were at the time of social unrest during the 60s and 70s … We will leave no place untouched by the goodwill and knowledge that our students and faculty can bring to this world.”

Following Robinson’s speech, faculty members nominated for the Teacher of the Year Award and Teaching Innovation Award were introduced.

Of the nominees, Dr. Gokhan Hacisalihoglu won the Teaching Innovation Award for senior faculty, Dr. Jenelle Robinson won the Teaching Innovation Award for junior faculty, and Dr. Selina Darling-Reed won the Teacher of the Year Award. They each received a giant check between $1,000 and $2,000.

No FAMU affair could be complete without the infamous charge and Robinson invited Former President Humphries to do the honors “for old time’s sake.” After the alma mater and more happy birthday wishes, the convocation finally concluded.

However, Robinson’s message to all Rattlers still remains relevant to the past, the present and what’s yet to come.

“After the fever is gone and the pain has subsided, something else takes hold … We fought every battle together, relished every accolade together and mourned the loss of every fallen Rattler together,” Robinson said. “We open our doors and hearts to all who enter and will not rest until our work is finished.”