Trailblazing Knights Attend Campus Event Honoring Their Legacy
By Ashley Cullins
On April 8, members of Florida Technological University’s first five graduating classes gathered at the Celeste Hotel for Trailblazing Knights, an event honoring their contributions to the university now known as UCF.
For Larry Dunagan ’70, an Air Force veteran and one of FTU’s first tour guides, UCF’s transformation was hard to believe. He lives in Dothan, Alabama and had last visited campus in 1976 while on leave.
“There was nothing but trees where we’re sitting right now,” Larry said in the lobby of the Celeste. “We’ve gone from this very small campus to being everywhere. It astounds me, and I think that’s a real accomplishment. It shows the success of the university in promoting itself and having academic programs that meet the needs of students.”
Other early graduates, like Dennis Murray ’74, have returned to campus frequently. Dennis was born and raised in Orlando and still lives here today. He has been a football season ticket holder since the program started, and he holds basketball season tickets too.
“I’ve remained connected with the university over the years,” he said, “so today I’m most excited to socialize with other graduates and hopefully see some familiar faces.”
An Army veteran, Dennis was wounded in combat in Vietnam and awarded the Purple Heart before enrolling at FTU at age 21.
He was joined at the event by his wife Marty Murray ’93, a member of the Women’s Club at UCF. Their first date in 1983 was a UCF Homecoming picnic and football game, and they were married three months later. When their grandson graduates later this year, he will hold the family’s ninth UCF degree.
After attendees—and Knightro—socialized in the lobby, the event kicked off with a lunch that included remarks from President Cartwright, Provost Johnson, and Heather Junod ’98, the Associate Vice President of Alumni Engagement and Annual Giving.
“You’re the ones who somehow decided to come to a brand new university and trust it,” President Cartwright told attendees. “Thank you for being here during this institution’s first steps. We are very proud of you and the environment you created. You are the first members of Knight Nation and the first members of the UCF family.”
After lunch, President Cartwright and Assistant Vice President of Planned Giving Kathleen Hagerty presented each FTU alum with a UCF diploma.
Receiving the UCF diploma was the most exciting part of the event for Wiletha ’70 and Roland ’71 ’78MS Williams. The couple met in the FTU cafeteria in 1968. After graduation, Wiletha was an educator for over 20 years and Roland worked in the aerospace industry. He is a member of the UCF College of Sciences Dean’s Advisory Board.
“I feel like registering again!” said Roland, who was the first person in line to register for classes when FTU opened. “UCF is a magical place, and I’m proud to be an alum.”
“We’re very impressed,” Wiletha added. “I never would have pictured this. The university is really on the cutting edge of what’s happening in the world, and we’re just honored to be a part of it.”
The group later toured campus, passing by Ferrell Commons, Memory Mall, and Trevor Colbourn Hall before stops at the John C. Hitt Library and Millican Hall. In the library, event attendees reminisced on their time at the university while looking through FTU photos, newspapers and memorabilia.
The tour was the highlight of the day for Cindy ’73 and Robert ’74 Young. “It’s spectacular,” said Cindy, “and so different. It was so tiny when we were here. The only place to eat was the cafeteria, and University Boulevard was a two-lane road between cow pastures.”
“That’s what I was most looking forward to today, seeing the beautiful campus and how much it’s changed,” added Robert.
Robert and Cindy met on their first day at FTU, when Cindy was sitting under a tree singing along to her cousin’s guitar. Robert, who grew up in a musical family, sat next to Cindy and joined in the singing. He later joined Tau Kappa Epsilon (TKE), and Cindy was one of the fraternity’s little sisters.
When TKE hosted the Sadie Hawkins Dance, she decided to ask Robert to be her date. They got pretend “hitched” at the dance and were married in real life after Cindy graduated.
Following the tour, the event concluded at the Dr. Phillips Center, with a Trailblazing Knights and President’s Circle appreciation reception and a performance by UCF’s chart-topping Flying Horse Big Band.
Linda (Singer) Black ’71 said, “[The event] was everything I envisioned, just wonderful. It was calm and relaxed, but everything was so beautiful! You can imagine how amazing it was to see friends for the first time in 51 years.”