‘An honor and a joy’: The powerful words of an outgoing university president

John Thrasher leaves an unmatched legacy at FSU.
By: | August 16, 2021
John Thrasher with wife Jean on FSU's campus. (Photo courtesy of Florida State University)

Today marks the first official day in the chair of president at Florida State University for Richard McCullough, the former vice provost of research at Harvard University who impressed the Board of Governors with his academic “acumen” and ability to spur growth and partnerships.

Florida State believes its new leader, who similarly helped research initiatives soar at Carnegie Mellon University across two-plus decades, will bring the same energy and “excellence” that its outgoing president did the past seven years.

John Thrasher exited the Tallahassee campus on Sunday with a legacy that includes a nearly 75% four-year graduation rate and a 95% freshman retention rate.

“It’s hard to imagine a more transformative, gracious and relationship-driven leader than John Thrasher,” said FSU Vice President for Finance and Administration Kyle Clark. “President Thrasher inspired everyone he met with his bold vision for Florida State University and his commitment to building a culture of excellence. He was a collaborative and decisive president who guided the university through unprecedented challenges while accomplishing extraordinary success. Under his leadership, students, faculty, staff and alumni worked together to elevate FSU’s reputation as a preeminent research institution and achieve recognition as one of the nation’s Top 20 public universities.”

In addition, Florida State expanded graduate programs, launched a fundraising campaign that exceeded more than $1 billion and hired hundreds of new faculty.

“It’s because of our shared values, goals and aspirations that Florida State University has made such tremendous strides over the past six and a half years,” Thrasher wrote in his departure letter, addressing specifically the efforts of students, faculty, staff and the Board during his tenure. “We have enhanced student success, expanded our research enterprise, invested in faculty and academic programs, raised our national profile, exceeded fundraising goals, constructed new facilities, and strengthened our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. I am particularly proud that we have achieved the best graduation rate in Florida—a rate that also happens to be one of the very best in the nation.”

Humility among historic success

For Thrasher, walking away from the post at FSU is bittersweet. He received his bachelor’s degree in business from the university in 1965 and later earned his law degree in 1972, earning two Bronze Stars for his service during the Vietnam War in between. After a distinguished law and political career that saw him rise to become the speaker of the Florida House of Representatives and a state Senator, he was named Florida State’s 15th president in 2014. He had previously served on the Board of Trustees and was influential in helping launch the university’s College of Medicine.

Since then, it has been a whirlwind ride for this president as FSU’s prominence as an academic power (nine Fulbright Scholars) and a leader in the arts, has grown exponentially. Aside from its research prowess, FSU continues to earn acclaim for its athletic success and traditions, though it just lost another of its most iconic leaders, football coach Bobby Bowden, who passed away last week at age 91 and was honored this past weekend. Transition and change are happening quickly at FSU.

Thrasher managed to pause and reflect before he stepped aside.

“To say this has been my dream job does not even begin to capture what an honor and a joy it has been to lead my beloved alma mater,” he said. “I want to express my deep and sincere appreciation to everyone who has contributed to FSU’s success during the course of my presidency. We’re making the world a better place — and everyone here makes a difference in some way, every day.”

He managed to thank almost everyone in the letter, including alumni and those currently attending Florida State.

“To our students — you are the reason we are here. You have inspired me with your passion for learning and enthusiasm for life, and you have challenged me to consider new ideas and other points of view. And, you make this job fun! Some of my fondest memories are working together on important university initiatives, seeing you at the Ice Cream Social, taking selfies on the Westcott Plaza, and giving fist bumps at graduation.”

And he offered a proper sendoff to the next leader.

“I’m confident President McCullough will take this university that we all love so much to even greater heights, and you can be assured I will be cheering him on every step of the way.”