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It’s a wonderful life as a Good ‘Burger this season

Christian Hardigree



"It's a Wonderful Life." Screengrab.

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It may sound corny, but one of my favorite holiday traditions is watching It’s a Wonderful Life. I just love the part where the residents of Bedford Falls rally together to help George Bailey. Seeing people uplift one another always puts a smile on my face and makes me feel all warm and gooey inside.

I experienced a similar feeling recently when attending this week’s Good ‘Burger Awards. Organized by the St. Pete Chamber of Commerce, the awards were created in honor of a former mayor who referred to St. Petersburg residents as “burgers.”

Awards are given in a variety of categories, from “Eats and Treats” to “Arts and Culture” and “New Biz on the Block.” It is meant to honor businesses and individuals who make St. Petersburg the very special place that it is.

I had the privilege of being nominated in the “Most Valuable Burger” category and I must admit I was pretty darn excited. At first, I thought I was being “punked” and had to confirm the validity of the email that I received. But goodness gracious, I was so honored at being included with such rarefied company! The nominees were a veritable who’s who of people making a difference in our community. They included our amazing mayor (and USF alum) Ken Welch; Brian Auld, the co-president of the Tampa Bay Rays; esteemed multimedia artist Chad Mize; Renee Edwards, the force behind the fantastic Saturday Shoppes; Gwendolyn Reese, president and CEO of Peaten Reese Peaten Consulting Inc. and the president of the African American Heritage Association of St. Petersburg; as well as several other impressive movers and shakers. I especially loved that fellow nominee Doug Jackson made lapel buttons and wore them around town.

The winner was the inspiring Sandy Bean, founder of St. Pete Girl Boss, an organization that supports and empowers female entrepreneurs, a subject that is near and dear to my heart. She has so much enthusiasm and works tirelessly as a champion of women and as a powerful advocate for the value of education. I am truly proud to be in her company.

You know how people who are up for an award always say it’s an honor to be nominated and you know deep down they really want to win? Well, in my case, I truly believe that being nominated was a win – especially considering I’ve only been a St. Petersburger for about a year and a half. I think it’s a testament to the love and affection city residents have for USF St. Petersburg. There is such a strong connection between our university and the community. As USF President Rhea Law likes to say: Every great city has a great university, and every great university has a great city.

That town-gown connection leads to a wealth of benefits on both sides. Because of the job shadowing and internship opportunities our business community offers, we’re able to nurture and develop a top talent pipeline. The generous contributions of donors and government organizations help fuel the cutting-edge research conducted by our faculty. We also form partnerships that advance economic development opportunities that uplift our entire region.

But what makes St. Petersburg truly unique is the passion with which people love this city. As Dolly Parton says, “Don’t get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.” St. Pete is the place where the community welcomes, encourages and incites others to make a life. I felt it from every person I met at the Good ‘Burger Awards and at all the community events I attend in my role as regional chancellor of USF St. Petersburg. Every single person I meet is deeply invested in the city’s success and is willing to roll up their sleeves and help contribute. As an educator, I’ve lived in a variety of places: Las Vegas, Atlanta and Denver, to name a few. And I’ve never encountered anything like the devotion that St. Petersburg residents have for their city.

So, this holiday season, I’m feeling especially grateful I’ve landed in Florida’s version of Bedford Falls, a place where so many people take care of one another and support each other’s accomplishments. As Clarence the guardian angel tells George, “No man is a failure who has friends.” And no city can possibly flounder when so many people are rooting for its success.

Have a wonderful holiday season, everybody. I’ll be back with you in 2024 with plenty of good news from USF St. Petersburg – and maybe sharing more wise words from Dolly.

Christian Hardigree is Regional Chancellor of USF St. Petersburg.

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