What’s orange and blue and red? The presidential hopefuls and other politicians who have made a stop at the University of Florida. See photos of their visits.
As we come off the 2020 election year, it’s worthwhile reflecting on some of the many politicians who passed through the University of Florida, whether chasing a degree or pontificating at the podium.
In the second half of the 20th century, UF hosted a string of politicians who addressed students about the major issues of the day. Many came at the invitation of Florida Blue Key as keynote speakers for the Homecoming Banquet. Others arrived as Accent speakers. A few simply came to campaign.
Among the memorable campaigners was Vice President Richard Nixon, who came in January 1960 to drum up support for his presidential bid. Oddly, the candidate who went on to defeat Nixon in the 1960 election, then-Sen. John F. Kennedy, had been a Blue Key speaker three years before. Other guest speakers for whom the Blue Key Banquet proved a steppingstone to the White House include Vice President/President Lyndon B. Johnson and Vice President/President George H. W. Bush.
UF also fostered a number of graduates who became prominent state politicians. Three served as both governor of Florida and multi-term U.S. senator: Spessard Holland (LLB ’16), Lawton Chiles (BSBA ’52, JD ’55) and Bob Graham (BA ’59). Other Gator U.S. senators include George A. Smathers (BA ’38), Connie Mack III (BSBA ’66), Bill Nelson (’62) and Marco Rubio (BA ’93). A recent Gator who has achieved political success is former UF Student Body President Nikki Fried (BA ’98, MA ’03, JD ’03), who was elected Florida secretary of agriculture and consumer services in 2018.
Washington outsiders may perennially claim the need to “drain the Swamp,” but these politicos knew the path to power often meant packing them in at the Blue Key Banquet and the Union Lawn, if not the Swamp itself.
Photos courtesy University of Florida Archives, George A. Smathers Libraries, unless otherwise noted.