UF honors rock icon Tom Petty with doctorate

Tom Petty
UF honored the late Tom Petty with a Doctor of Music degree on Thursday during its doctorate commencement ceremony.

UF honored Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and Gainesville native Tom Petty with an honorary Doctor of Music degree at Thursday’s doctorate commencement ceremony.

On behalf of the Petty family, UF President Ben Sasse accepted the degree for the iconic singer who died at the age of 68 in 2017.

“We in the UF School of Music and College of the Arts are privileged to honor Tom Petty with an honorary doctorate degree in Music, celebrating not only his extraordinary achievements as an artist but the ways in which his music has and continues to unite us as a community,” said UF School of Music director Kevin Orr in a press release. 

According to a UF press release, Petty’s family announced it would donate $100,000 to establish the Tom Petty Endowment for Guitars & Innovation in the UF College of the Arts.

“It is so incredible for everyone in the family that UF is honoring our dad in his hometown this way,” said Adria Petty, Tom’s daughter, in a press release. “He loved the Gators, and he loved Gainesville. He always talked about wanting a doctorate from UF and he would have been totally blown away by all this. It is an added gift that we can give something back and provide much-needed resources to underserved communities in Gainesville. It is near and dear to our entire Petty family.”  

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In 1970, Petty formed the band, Mudcrutch, when he was living in Gainesville. He then moved to Los Angeles where he launched Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers during the mid-1970s.

During his career, Petty earned multiple Grammy awards, MTV Music Awards, received the Billboard Century Award and, in 2002, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

According to the UF press release, “In addition to his rock star talent, throughout his life Tom Petty was consistently one of the staunchest and most outspoken advocates for the rights of working artists. Petty leveraged his platform and celebrity stature to challenge inequitable practices in the music industry and fought to protect the intellectual property rights of musicians.”

In October 2022, the UF’s University Athletic Association (UAA) celebrated the inaugural Tom Petty Day in conjunction with the Gators' football game against LSU.

“Raised right here in Gainesville — Tom Petty is a clear and shining example of the deep roots that art has in this community, and a steadfast and intentional guardian of his and others’ artistic freedoms and creative controls,” said UF College of Arts dean Onye Ozuzu in a press release. “He was also clearly a thoughtful and responsive member of his community at large, and always made sure to give back as a philanthropist in ways that could improve the lives of others. Mr. Petty’s work is exemplary of the excellence, distinctiveness, and overall impact that we hope our students will emulate.”

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