Graham Center celebrates 10 years of strengthening civic engagement at UF

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David McCullough, University Auditorium, April 2008

The University of Florida’s Bob Graham Center for Public Service will officially kick off its 10 Year Anniversary Celebration on Tuesday, March 22, in Naples, Florida. At the anniversary celebration, the center, in conjunction with the University of Florida Alumni Association, will host American author, narrator, historian and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough as he discusses his latest #1 New York Times bestseller, “The Wright Brothers.”

Former U.S. Sen. and Florida Gov. Bob Graham established the center at the University of Florida in 2006 to help students learn how to become citizen activists. At the core of the center’s mission is Graham’s belief that all Americans need a firm grounding in democratic government to fulfill their rights and responsibilities as citizens.

The Naples event is one in a series of statewide events being planned by the center for its anniversary celebration. Special guest Carl Hiaasen—journalist, columnist and novelist—will join the center at its Annual Gathering on May 19 in Tampa. During the gathering, the center will present its two coveted awards—the Florida Citizen of the Year Award and the Young Floridian Award. The awards are presented to Floridians who have made substantial contributions to improving the quality of life in the state of Florida.

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Bob Graham Center Annual Gathering on May 2015 in Jacksonville. Left to right: President of BCR Environmental Aaron Zahn (Young Floridian), Pulitzer Prize Reporter Lucy Morgan (Citizen of the Year), The Honorable Bob Graham and Jacksonville news anchor Deborah Gianoulis.

“Our goal with these awards is to emphasize that true success is not only measured by one’s educational and professional achievement, but also by the ways we contribute to the well-being of our society,” said Dr. David Colburn, UF provost and senior vice president emeritus, who serves as the Bob Graham Center director.

The annual awards are one of many initiatives aimed at promoting the importance of engaged citizenship. The center offers several experiential learning and research opportunities that empower students to address critical public policy issues. Those include: the Civic Scholars Program, The Askew Scholars Program, the Healthy Civic Campus and Community Initiative, The Public Policy Summit and the Tallahassee Internship Program.

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Click to view a video featuring Jayce Victor, Bob Graham Center graduate, Public Leadership Minor

In its 10-year history, the Bob Graham Center has placed more than 100 student interns in Tallahassee offices during the legislative session, commissioned more than 300 students from nearly every academic major to conduct county level research and boasts graduates that have gone on to work as public servants in the State Department, the State Attorney’s Office, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims and more. Its contribution to private-sector leadership is equally robust.

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The Honorable Bob Graham meets with members of the 2015 University of Florida Student Government ACCESS Party executive team and cabinet members.

“When I left the U.S. Senate in 2005, I resolved to spend the rest of my public service career helping young people connect with their democracy,” Graham said. “The Graham Center is dedicated to preparing University of Florida students, of all academic backgrounds, to be informed and active participants in our democracy—equipped with the skills needed to shape policy for the betterment of their families and communities.”

In addition to its student-centered programming, the Graham Center also offers a highly-regarded public lecture series for the campus and community. Most events are streamed live to facilitate public access throughout the state and are maintained in a digital archive on the center’s website for later viewing.

Director Colburn says that the public lecture series is one of the center’s hallmarks and that Pugh Hall has become a forum where state, national and global issues of the day are debated and analyzed. Speakers are drawn from the ranks of state and federal officials, leading scholars and award-winning journalists. The forum focuses on complex policy problems facing society.

“We often hear from students and community members about how much they value the opportunity to hear from, and interact with, some of the leading minds in the country on issues of importance,” Colburn commented.

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The Bob Graham Center hosted provocative intellectual and best-selling author Cornel West on Jan. 20 for a frank discussion on poverty and homelessness in America.

Distinguished guests have included: President Jimmy Carter, Cornell West, Tavis Smiley, Chuck Hagel, Sandra Day O’Connor, Pam Bondi, Nicholas Kristof and John Lewis.

On the docket for March is a discussion on the criminal justice system with current American Bar Association President Paulette Brown and Chairman and CEO of the Times Publishing Company Paul Tash as well as a conversation on conflict reconciliation by a Methodist minister who is credited with leading the largest faith-based redevelopment project in Western Europe. To learn more about upcoming events, please see this related story.

“The Graham Center places a focus on the importance of good government, thoughtful public policy and citizen involvement,” Colburn said. “We are committed to educating and inspiring our students to be the next generation of leaders for our state, our nation and our world.”

For more information on the Bob Graham Center, its public lecture series or student programs, email or visit