This year’s Honorary Chancellor for Florida Southern College is Ramón Gil-Casares, the current Spanish ambassador to the U.S.
Gil-Casares will speak and officially be given his title at the Founder’s Convocation in March.
“Every year, Florida Southern College selects an Honorary Chancellor, which is a person who, through their professional achievements and their civic engagements, really epitomizes the mission of the college, which is to make a positive and consequential impact on society,” Dr. Anne Kerr, college president, said.
The process for selecting the next Honorary Chancellor began early.
“When the last Chancellor is leaving campus, last year was Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, chairman of the American Red Cross, as she was pulling away, we were already talking about who we would have for the next year,” Kerr said.
Gil-Casares’s appointment as Honorary Chancellor comes in conjunction with the 500th celebration of Ponce de León’s arrival on Florida’s shores. All of Florida will celebrate with “Viva 500,” including FSC with Gil-Casares’s appointment and a cultural exhibit at the McKay Archives Center in collusion with the Citrus Hall of Fame, as well as other events.
“Every single community has things that they’re celebrating,” Dr. James Denham, professor of history at FSC, said.
Judge E.J. Salcines, retired judge of the district court of appeal in central Florida, FSC alumni and longtime member of the FSC board of trustees, has held a long association with the Spanish Government. Salcines was a key player in getting the Gil-Casares to come to FSC.
“The same as we proudly celebrate the arrival of our English-speaking forefathers when they arrived in Jamestown, in what we now call Virginia, in 1607, and our national celebration of the arrival of the pilgrims…” Salcines said. “…We recognize that one century before Christians had arrived in Florida and the explorations of our great nation started as early as 1528, and the founding of the oldest city in North America, our own St. Augustine.”
Salcines said that he hopes that the celebration of the five-hundredth anniversary will bring “a greater appreciation of the hardships and struggles of those early explorers and settlers that came to our country through what we proudly call the state of Florida.”
The moment of discovery was pivotal, not just for Florida, but for the world because of the first contact between the Spanish and Native Americans in North America.
The resulting exchange caused diseases to be exchanged between the two cultures, decimating Native American populations and impacting future explorations.
“There’s more importance to these things than just dates on a calendar,” Denham said. “It really carried with it huge ramifications and significance for humankind and the world. So this is really a global event.”
Ponce De León made two trips to Florida before being killed by Native Americans.
“In the first trip, he actually discovered the Gulf Stream, which is probably as important as the discovery of the peninsula of Florida because it was basically the sea highway for ships…and it pushed ships along the Atlantic coast so that they could go along the Atlantic coast and catch the currents and go back across to Spain,” Denham said.
Gil-Casares, as the new Honorary Chancellor, will join the ranks of other prominent individuals who have spoken during FSC’s Homecoming weekend.
“We’ve had the head of NASA, we’ve had the librarian of Congress, the head of the Smithsonian, so we’ve had really important people who are making a major impact on our nation and the world,” Kerr said.
Gil-Casares was born in Madrid and has, since 1982, served the Spanish government. He was appointed to the position of Ambassador to the U.S. in April 2012.
Kerr believes that Gil-Casares as Honorary Chancellor is a good opportunity for students to expand their horizons.
“I think it’s important for us to have an expanded view of the world and what’s happening economically from a global perspective, and to see how the United States and world economies are so closely intertwined, to see how we emphasize the appreciation of different cultures,” Kerr said.