It’s official: Martha Saunders is UWF’s new president

By Elizabeth Gray
Staff Writer

The Center for Fine and Performing Arts was the site of the ceremony installing Martha Saunders as the sixth president of the University of West Florida on Friday.

While Saunders is new to the president’s post, she’s no stranger to UWF. Saunders started her academic career here in 1984 as an adjunct professor in the communications department.

Saunders standing center stage during the formal installation of being named UWF’s sixth president by the UWF Board of Trustees Chair, Mort O’ Sullivan. Photo by Elizabeth Gray

Along with faculty, staff and students, many notable and honored guests attended, including: Ashton Hayward, mayor of Pensacola; Marshall Criser III, chancellor of the State University System of Florida; Madeline Pumariega, chancellor of the Florida College System; and past UWF presidents, including Judy Bense.

Hayward spoke during the ceremony about how he felt about Saunders: “When you think about Martha you think of smarts, you think of drive and you think of beauty. And, obviously, the commitment she had to our great community.”

Hayward wasn’t the only person to offer praise of Saunders.

Pumariega shared her greeting from the Florida college system. “We could not be more thrilled to bring in a president who has labored of love at this university. To see a woman of integrity, of academic excellence, of vision and of courage become the sixth president for the University of West Florida is a momentous day.”

After many well wishes for Saunders, the UWF singers, directed by Peter Steenblik, performed a moving rendition of “You Raise Me Up” along with a video made by idgroup, a local branding agency, especially for the ceremony.

Saunders then came to the podium to share with the audience what life was like when UWF was started 50 years ago.

“The year 1967 brought some remarkable firsts,” Saunders said. “The world’s first heart transplant, the first ATM, the first Super Bowl. Nearly half a million American troops were fighting in Vietnam. Women were beginning to marshal forces and form our own front lines for equality in the workplace.”

Saunders went on to describe the counterculture of “hippies” and the summer of 1967.

“Our hair was long, our skirts were short, and when you asked us how our day was we would tell you it was groovy. And as the summer of love drew to its close, in the midst of societal change and chaos … the University of West Florida open its doors and classes began – and you wonder why we’re different.”

For her inauguration’s theme, she chose “Ancora Imparo,” which means “Still I am learning,” because she said she believes the phrase reflects who we are at UWF.

As the speech went on, Saunders talked about how the university has grown in all aspects, about the theme of the inauguration and how the two are tied together.

“Learning produces change, and that change is relatively permanent … As a community of learners at UWF for the past 50 years, we have seen change and we will see more.”

If you are interested in watching the inauguration ceremony you can view it here.