50@50: Lighting the Torch of Knowledge through the years

To celebrate the university’s 50th anniversary, FIU News is sharing 50 moments in FIU’s history as part of our “50@50″ series. Below are photos from the Torch Run held on Sept. 15, 1997 in celebration of the university’s 25th anniversary. Photos appear courtesy of the FIU Special Collections & University Archives.

By Joel Delgado ’12 MS ’17 

For many years, the Torch of Knowledge, Service and Understanding stood in the shadows of Primera Casa without being lit.

That all changed when members of a committee charged with organizing events to celebrate FIU’s 25th anniversary planned the Torch Run.

The Torch Run was created as an Olympic-style relay that began at the North Miami Campus (BBC today) and concluded at the University Park Campus (MMC today) with the lighting of the Torch, which has served as a symbol of FIU’s mandate to serve the community since the university opened its doors in 1972.

UP-SGA President Carlos Becerra ’98, MPA ’01 was a member of that committee and helped bring together both campuses to accomplish this ambitious endeavor.

“We were focused on telling the community that FIU was here and we were doing great things,” Becerra said. “We were a sleeping giant at the time and it was a great opportunity for our students and leaders to work alongside our founding fathers for this event.”

The relay began at noon on Sept. 15, 1997 with the flame carried by North Miami Campus SGA President Arthur Papillion Jr.

Approximately 100 members of the FIU community – from students representing various campus organizations to alumni living in the community – participated in the seven-hour long relay, carrying the flame through many of Miami’s prominent neighborhoods en route to University Park.

Becerra ran the final leg of the relay and handed off the torch to then-President Modesto A. Maidique, who lit the Torch himself in front of a large crowd gathered in front of Primera Casa.

For those who were there, it was a memory and college experience they still cherish today.

“I will always remember the pride I felt as students carried the FIU torch from Biscayne Bay to Sweetwater,” said Cedric McMinn ’01, who took part in the run. “It was one of the best experiences I had as a Golden Panther.”

The origins of the torch lighting date all the way back to the very first day FIU opened. On Sept. 14, 1972, the Torch of Knowledge, Service and Understanding was lit for the first time in memory of  Sen. Ernest R. Graham during a ceremony celebrating the university’s opening day.

The Torch, located near the northeast side of Primera Casa, holds an encryption in memory of the state senator who helped pave the way for FIU’s opening:

Florida International University Torch of Knowledge, Service and Understanding. The Eternal Flame From This Torch Stands As A Constant Reminder of Florida International University’s Commitment To Mankind. The Torch Is Dedicated In Memory Of Ernest R. Graham (1895-1964), State Senator From Miami, Who With Great Foresight And Wisdom First Introduced Legislation In The Florida Legislature To Establish A State University In South Florida. September 14, 1972.

 In 2004, the Trail of the Torch was established and has become one of the university’s largest traditions with more and more students taking part in the annual event; it normally occurs on the first Thursday of the fall semester (this year’s event was postponed due to weather and will be rescheduled in coming weeks).

The Trail of the Torch has become one of the largest traditions on campus since its inception in 2004.

The Trail of the Torch has become one of the largest traditions on campus since its inception in 2004.

The new incarnation of the Torch Run begins in the FIU housing quad at MMC with a pep rally featuring Roary, the Golden Dazzlers, cheerleaders, the FIU marching band and other special guests. Like its predecessor, the Trail of the Torch procession involves students carrying a flame relay-style, this time from the housing quad to the Torch site in front of PC.

Becerra, who now serves as FIU’s director of Federal Relations in Washington, D.C., is glad that the lighting the Torch has become an annual tradition at FIU. He also hopes that the route taken from BBC to MMC during the 25th anniversary Torch Run will be replicated one day by a new generation of FIU students and alumni.

Now representing the university as an advocate for FIU’s interests in the nation’s capital, Becerra is proud to see how far the university has come since his days as a student and in the years after that special 25th anniversary celebration.

“This being our 50th anniversary, we’re kind of running a different type of torch run – one that is trying to proclaim to the nation and the world what FIU is and where we are,” Becerra said. “Our leaders and our alumni continue to raise our own torch to try and bring attention to the university and the exciting place that it is.”