In this respect, Blue Key was given the task of planning and executing Homecoming activities that year and has continued to lead this activity ever since. Also included in the 1923 Homecoming was Dad’s Day, a time for parents to visit and acquaint themselves with campus life. Dad’s Day and Homecoming were held concurrently until the 1930’s. “Florida Blue Key was founded on November 1, 1923, several days prior to the University’s Homecoming celebration. At the suggestion of President Albert E. Murphree, Bert C. Riley, Dean of General Extension, brought together a group of student leaders to form an organization which would recognize leadership and promote service to the University. Among the duties assigned to Florida Blue Key were playing host to campus visitors and to be at the call of the President of the University for any duty designated by him.
The organization quickly became so popular that Blue Key spread to colleges and universities across the country. Initially, membership in the organization was ex-officio; a student automatically belonged to the organization if he held one of the major student organization positions on campus.
Separation with national chapters
The concept of a group of student leaders pooling their talents and interests to plan and promote a major event for their campus was a good idea. Through Dean Riley’s travels and professional contacts, similar organizations were developed on other campuses and it wasn’t long before it seemed appropriate to organize into a national group.
For a variety of reasons, the University of Florida chapter decided not to be part of the national organization between 1932 and 1935. The Florida group thought the proposed Constitution of the national organization took too much control from the hands of the students; and it disagreed with some specific tenants of membership, including the requirement of a 2.5 grade point average. The Florida group believed the organization was not an academic one but, rather, a leadership and service group; thus, if one was progressing satisfactorily toward a degree (i.e. 2.0), one should be eligible for membership.
The Blue Key National Honor Society came into being and is a very respected national organization with chapters on many campuses throughout the country. Florida Blue Key was also formed as an organization only to be found at the University of Florida. The dispute was a clear indication that FBK did not intend to serve as a passive honor for University of Florida students, but rather as an active force in shaping the events of the university and state.
The parting of the ways between the parent chapter and other chapters forming the national organization left deep wounds on many Florida students. The perceptions of the conflict being a very important part of any subsequent discussions about the organization for years to come; including discussions of orientation of new members. The active members at that time wanted nothing to do with the national organization once it was founded, and, further, wanted to be sure that their successors would not become involved in it. Examples of such feelings are expressed in the last sentence of the Oath of Membership in Florida Blue Key and the Constitution. Through the 1940’s, the orientation of new members included hours on the discussion of this topic.
Today, it is still part of the orientation, but only for the purposes of relating its historical significance and for emphasizing that Florida Blue Key is the name of the organization that it has no relationship to, and is not part of, Florida Blue Key National Honor Society. A transfer student to the University of Florida often assumes his membership in a Blue Key National Honor Society chapter at another institution provides him with reciprocal membership in Florida Blue Key; only then to find out that is not the case. To this day, Florida Blue Key controls the use of all trademark and intellectual property rights related to Blue Key. Furthermore, Blue Key National Honor Society is prohibited from chartering or forming chapters at any institution within the State of Florida.
Florida Blue Key is one of the most unique student organizations in American higher education. In the 1920’s, the University of Florida was the state’s only institution of higher learning where a white male could continue his education. During the same time, the leadership of the state was male, predominantly those from Florida. If one of those leaders were college educated, it was most likely he went to the University of Florida and, to a large measure, it was consistent that student leaders at the University of Florida would likely remain in Florida and would assume roles of leadership within the professional, political, governmental, business, education cultural, religious, and social life of the state. The networking of those students with each other, and with other alumni of the institution, provided a powerful force and unique opportunity for service to the University of Florida. While Florida Blue Key membership offered many opportunities for service to the University, it also provided opportunities for personal enhancement and advancement. Many doors were opened to young college graduates whose resume included membership in Florida Blue Key.
-Authored by Wiliam E. Rion, Advisor and Alumni Secretary 1958-1988, for Who’s Who in Florida Blue Key.
Mr. Rion was an active part of Florida Blue Key since 1946. He passed away in December 1999.