Florida Blue Key was born when a University Administrator asked a group of students to undertake the task of planning and executing a special weekend celebration for the University. In 1923, President A. A. Murphree believed the University should have a day set aside when students would invite their fathers to come to the campus for a special celebration to see the University and learn about it with them. He asked Dr. B.C. Riley, dean, General Extension Division, to suggest the project to students. Dean Riley brought together some of the titular leaders of the Student Body, who, under his guidance, planned a Dad’s Day in the Fall with the key event being a football game. The even was successful and continued another year, with the name being changed to Homecoming. The students organized themselves into Blue Key.
The organization continues to sponsor and organize the University of Florida’s annual Homecoming celebration which has grown to encompass dozens of events and community activities throughout the fall semester. Beginning in the early 1980’s, the organization began to sponsor the Florida Blue Key Speech and Debate Tournament, recognized as one of the premier high school debate tournaments in the country. Florida Blue Key equips the next generation of leaders in the state through leadership opportunities in college such as the Florida Blue Key Speech and Debate Tournament and Florida Blue Key forums or debates for Florida’s Governor, U.S. Senate seats, or other elected officials, sometimes broadcast across the state. Additionally, Florida Blue Key and the Florida Blue Key Alumni Society coordinates Gator Legislative Day, furthering the interests of the University of Florida and higher education in the state through advocacy efforts with state lawmakers and the Governor’s office. Florida Blue Key also provides real world leadership experiences by organizing the Miss University of Florida pageant, University of Florida’s Legal Professions Day, Health Professions Day and service opportunities such as the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Gainesville.
Following the success and prestige of Florida Blue Key, 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 a part of the national organization. The Florida group thought the proposed Constitution of the national organization placed too much control into Dean Riley’s hands; and it disagreed with some specific tenets of membership. The Blue Key National Honor Society came into being and is a ver 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 parting of the ways between the parent chapter and other chapters forming the national organization left deep wounds on many Florida students and on Dean Riley. Considerable bitterness was developed between students of those Days and Dean Rile; the perceptions of the conflict being a very important part of an subsequent discussion 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 in the Constitution. Through the 1940’s, the orientation of new members included hours of discussion on this one topic. Today, it is still part of the orientation, but only for the purpose of relating its historical significance and for emphasizing that Florida Blue Key is the name of this organization, that it has no relation to, and is not part of, Blue Key National Honor Society. A transfer student to Florida often assumes his/her membership in a Blue Key chapter at another institution provides him/her with membership in UF’s Florida Blue Key; only then to learn that such is not the case.