Palm Coast, FL (May 18, 2022) “Jean will tell you my favorite things to do at FSU is to go to graduations,” he shared from podium.
“I shook 80,000 hands over seven years, give or take a few, including my granddaughter. It was a special time. It’s not just going there and seeing how happy they are, how the families are happy and so excited, but it’s seeing them going out in the community, the state, the country really, and start making a difference. Many of them have come back and I see them all the time. That to me is one of the most rewarding things that I have probably ever done in public service.”
Why It Matters: A Commitment to Student Success
Sharing details from a long and storied career, it’s those memorable moments during his time as President of Florida State University that have made a lasting impact on John Thrasher, someone whose decades of service have made an impact on the State of Florida.
The lifelong public servant was the keynote speaker at the Flagler Tiger Bay Club’s May meeting on Wednesday. Luncheon attendees ranged from school board candidate hopefuls like Lance Alred and Courtney VandeBunte to Florida Public Service Commissioner Art Graham, all eager to hear Thrasher’s perspective on education in Florida.
Flagler County School Board member Colleen Conklin, who has a stake in both the K-12 education system and higher education at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, listened attentively.
“John Thrasher has always been a champion for public education. I appreciated his reminder to all of us that public education is in the fabric of our nation and something we should all value and support,” she said.
Known as a consensus builder, Thrasher is universally respected by many in Florida politics.
“We always had a great relationship even when we disagreed on issues. He valued a variety of opinions and I will always be grateful he took time to reach across the aisle and ask for mine,” said Conklin.
Recognizing Florida’s noted excellence in higher education which has earned the state top ratings from U.S. News and World Report, he was proud of helping his own alma mater rise from 46th when he took the helm in 2014 as President of Florida State University to 19th in the country with a 95 percent retention rate, when he retired in August 2021.
“It’s really a commitment to student success,” said Thrasher.
“It tells students, it tells parents, it tells legislators who really do so much to help fund us, tells donors, obviously prospective businesses in communities that there is a quality education system going on in the state of Florida,” he said, applauding the Legislature’s support of the university system by keeping tuition low, and investing in faculty, resources, and research, while urging them to do more to become a world class university system.
Thrasher was candid and direct when answering Flagler Tiger Bay Club members’ questions drawing laughter when discussing his four years on the school board.
“That service on the school board is where the rubber really meets the road. You want the kind of people who care about your kids, care about their safety, care about their education, care about their community and what they’re doing,” he said.
“Every single person who’s served on a school board ought to be given a high five in my opinion,” said Thrasher, highlighting the need to maintain civility, while giving a nod to parents who have stepped up to advocate for a more active role in their child’s education.
Seeking words of wisdom, Flagler County School Board member Jill Woolbright noted the exodus of teachers from the field of education, questioning what universities are doing to recruit teachers back into the education program.
“It’s hard. (Enrollment) into colleges of education have fallen off, probably because of the controversy and turmoil,” said Thrasher bluntly.
“You know what? Pay them more. Damn it, they need to be paid more. I’m sorry. I know Governor DeSantis is working on that, the Legislature has, but it’s still not enough for a single person, even a married person that’s got another spouse working, (it’s) not enough for them. They deserve more.”
“They need better mentorship. I think that’s one of the roles universities could play is making sure they have a senior level person mentoring them. I’m not sure education people need four years of college. Maybe they need three and a whole year of mentorship as opposed to six weeks or a block. Those are the types of things I think would enhance the profession, but for goodness sake, we need to pay them more,” he said, offering advice.
Club members vie for the coveted ‘Fang & Claw Award’ each meeting for best question, and Linda Hansen was this month’s recipient.
While the basis of her question centered around universities helping school boards navigate the recent school board-versus-parents mentality that has pitted neighbors against each other across the nation, the question spoke to the very heart of the Flagler Tiger Bay Club’s foundation and mission.
“There are so many things we agree on and so many things we could be doing if we just sit down and talk civilly to each other about how to solve some of these difficult problems that we have,” answered Thrasher.
“I worry about our country. I worry about the direction were going in. Unless we come back a little bit from some of the extremes on both sides, I think our country is headed for some sad times.”
Attending the luncheon at the invitation of longtime friend and colleague, retired Flagler County Clerk of Courts and Comptroller Gail Wadsworth, he credited her for getting him back to the community he once represented in the Florida legislature.
“When I read the Wall Street Journal article about student loans being the next big financial crisis in America, the first person I thought of was John Thrasher,” said Wadsworth.
“John was the Speaker of our House of Representatives in the early 2000s; then our senator; and then he became the 15th president of Florida State University. Through his tenure as a legislator, he always championed education. As FSU’s President, that love and championship continued. I couldn’t think of anyone but him when I wanted to hear what Florida was doing. I’m excited to have had him speak eloquently of his past and the Florida education system’s positive future,” she said.
Coming Up: Final Speaker of the Spring Season
The Flagler Tiger Bay Club will host Brad Swanson, President and CEO of Florida Internet & Television for the June 15th meeting at Hammock Dunes Club to discuss how Florida will leverage the new federal broadband/digital infrastructure funding to expand access to underserved and rural communities.
To find out more, visit www.flaglertigerbayclub.com.