It Began with a Speech

The History of the Bob Graham Center

Sen. Bob Graham was in Tallahassee in the spring of 2004 announcing his retirement from the U.S. Senate after more than three decades of distinguished public service. As Graham addressed the crowd he spoke of his intentions to remain active in public life and his desire to train a new generation of engaged citizens. Listening to that speech was Dr. David Hedge, a professor of political science at the University of Florida. Hedge was intrigued. Bob Graham's roots run deep at UF. He earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from the university in 1959, and perhaps even more importantly, he met his wife of more than 50 years, Adele, on the steps of Tigert Hall. To Hedge, the state’s flagship university was the ideal place to bring Graham’s vision to fruition.

"When I left the U.S. Senate in 2005, I resolved to spend the rest of my public life helping citizens reconnect with democracy."

— Bob Graham

A Vision Takes Shape

Graham hoped to create a center that would promote interdisciplinary collaboration throughout the UF campus and Gainesville community. Under the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Hedge and UF faculty from several departments began to flesh out ideas and solicit feedback from academics, policy makers and political thinkers. In the summer of 2005, Bob Graham announced the creation of his namesake center. UF made it official in January of 2006.

That year, the center received a U.S. Department of Justice grant to develop public policy courses and fund faculty-student research. Dr. Walter Rosenbaum, professor emeritus in the Department of Political Science, was persuaded to oversee the burgeoning center as interim director.

Hedge and the center's staff collaborated with faculty from history, political science and economics to create a Certificate in Public Leadership. As the center grew and its programs flourished, the time came to find a permanent home. Jim Pugh and his wife, Alexis, donated the funds needed for the construction of Pugh Hall, which held its grand opening in March of 2008. In its first year, Pugh Hall welcomed speakers including David McCullough, Madeleine Albright, Chuck Hagel, Jay Rockefeller and Howard Dean.

A Vision Expanded

Dr. Ann Henderson joined the center as director in July of 2009. Henderson brought with her an extensive background in state, national and international issue management and had overseen several nonprofit organizations around the state. Henderson saw great promise in the power of technology in service of civics. Not only was it a timely fundraising proposition it would also help the new center attract interest from across the campus and the many disciplines.

"I wanted the Graham Center to be seen as an agile community, nimble enough to use new tools to educate 21st century students"

Knight Foundation, Civil Debate Wall

"I wanted the Graham Center to be seen as an agile community, nimble enough to use new tools to educate 21st century students," she said. "Technology might make civics cool, maybe even awesome. “

Under Henderson's leadership in the fall of 2010, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation awarded the Center a $3 million grant. The grant funded several innovative programs, including the Civil Debate Wall, The Knight Fellows-in-Residence program, and the development of an online civics course.

Today, the center continues several student engagement activities as a result of the generous support of the Knight Foundation. Dr. David R. Colburn, provost and senior vice president emeritus, took the helm of the thriving Center in 2012.

Many new student engagement opportunities were introduced or expanded including the Bob Graham Civic Scholars Program, The Askew Scholars program, the Healthy Civic Campus and Community Project, The Future of Florida Summit, and the Tallahassee Internship Program. The Certificate in Public Leadership has evolved into a Minor in Public Leadership and distinguished speakers continue to be part of the Center's highly regarded public lecture series.

Vision. Inspiration. Collaboration.

The result: The Bob Graham Center for Public Service. A community of students, scholars and citizens dedicated to renewing the values, knowledge and skills of engaged citizenship.