Sendoff for UCF president is a 'Hitt' among campus community

Dr. Dale Whittaker becomes new UCF president on July 1

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ORLANDO, Fla. – After serving nearly three decades as the president of the University of Central Florida, Dr. John C. Hitt is retiring at the end of the month.

Hitt participated in his last official function as president Wednesday morning. 

He spoke in front of the Florida Board of Governors for a final time and provided the state agency an update on the university.

[READ: Former Gov. Jeb Bush shares life lessons at UCF graduation ceremony]

After the meeting, Hitt along with other university officials and students, spoke about his retirement. 

Former UCF student body president Nick Larkins was one of many people who thanked Hitt for his years of service.

"I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for being a mentor that I could emulate," Larkins said. "I want to thank you for being a great president and a great friend."

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Current UCF student body president Josh Bolona agreed, adding he has learned a lot under Hitt's tenure.

"Being passionate about leadership, you have taught me so much through your actions," Bolona said. 

Hitt spoke about his accomplishments during his 26 years as president. He recalled one of the biggest lessons he learned while on the job.

"Granted, if there was anything that I've learned in 26 years as president it is that our greatest danger is not to dream too large, but to dream too small," Hitt said.

[READ: Who is UCF's new president, Dale Whittaker?]

He also remembered the first speech he gave as president and the goals he set for the university.

"In my inaugural address in 1992 I said that a university achieves true greatness through a combination of vision, planning, hard work, vital support and good luck," Hitt said. "These qualities and the people who have ably embodied them transformed our university."

During Hitt's time, UCF evolved into one of the largest universities in the nation with more than 66,000 students. University officials said the average high school GPA of incoming freshman is now 4.06 compared to 3.30 when Hitt became president.

[RELATED: UCF names Dr. Dale Whittaker president-elect of university]

Minority students make up 46 percent of UCF's student body, up from 15 percent at the start of Hitt's presidency, officials said. One in every four UCF students is the first in his or her family to attend college.

During Hitt's tenure, UCF opened an honors college and medical school, built an on-campus football stadium, and secured approvals to build a new downtown Orlando campus and a medical center in Lake Nona, officials said.

In his more than quarter of a century at the school, Hitt has awarded more than 250,000 degrees to students. 

But Hitt did not want to focus too much on what he has done. Instead, he wanted to focus on UCF's future under president-elect Dr. Dale Whittaker.

[RELATED: UCF honors President John Hitt for 26 years of black and gold]

"As I look to the future, I know that our most daring days are ahead of us. That our students and faculty will inspire the work and that you will be there every step of the way as UCF continues to turn the impossible into the inevitable," Hitt said.

Students and supporters lined up, cheering and clapping as Hitt left campus. Many said he impacted thousands of lives and will leave behind a legacy.

"At UCF we dream big. Our greatest limitations are those that we place on ourselves. Let's all keep reaching for the stars. Go Knights!" Hitt said.

Hitt's official last day is Saturday. He is expected to retire with his wife and live in Wisconsin. Whittaker will become the fifth president of UCF on July 1.

About the Author:

Amanda Castro, a proud UCF alum, joined the News 6 team in November 2015 and was promoted to weekend morning anchor in April 2016. Go Knights!