Your Legacy, our future
Text Resize
Print This
Email This
Request Illustration
Download Brochure

A Degree of Distinction: Bill Mariotti Graduates at USF and Begins a New Course in Giving Back

A Degree of Distinction: Bill Mariotti Graduates at USF and Begins a New Course in Giving Back

By DAVE SCHEIBER

A memorable scene unfolded at USF Sarasota-Manatee's winter commencement in December 2015. After a stirring rendition of Pomp and Circumstance , one very special circumstance stole the show.

It only took Bill Mariotti a few seconds to stride in his cap and gown across the stage, embrace beaming university leaders and smile for the camera. But in another sense, the brief walk took him three decades to complete. Before Mariotti's name was even called, President Judy Genshaft made sure everyone inside the Manatee Civic Center knew how amazing the moment they were about to witness was - sharing the story of a man who had just finished a most unusual journey to finally receive his diploma.

"Bill is accomplishing what he started more than 30 years ago - a dream of earning his bachelor's degree," she told the audience, sparking a wave of applause and cheers - an ovation repeated when the 55-year-old student stepped into view as an official USF graduate.

The details of Mariotti's decision to interrupt his education five credits shy of graduating in the early 1980s are just part of his unusual tale. But the most remarkable aspect is what Mariotti has done to help USF on multiple fronts since becoming a full-fledged alumnus, highlighted by a recent transformational gift of $3.5 million to his alma mater.

The longtime Sarasota resident, who runs a site development company and asphalt business, got his first hands-on feel for the business when he was in his 20s. He worked part-time in his father's site development company while tackling a full-time course load on USF's Tampa campus as a business major. But all of that literally came crashing to a sudden stop during his senior year. While working on a demolition site with his dad, also named Bill, his father fell through a fiberglass skylight, breaking both his ankles and legs. What easily could have been a fatal accident only required surgery and a few months of rest. But life was about to change in a major way.

Mariotti was thrust into his father's role on the job, trying to juggle both classwork and site work. "I'd go to class in Tampa in the morning, then come home and go to work on a demolition project in Sarasota, but it was just too much," he reflects. He made the difficult decision to leave school and devote his full energy to running the business.

When his father eventually returned, Mariotti was so immersed in the day-to-day operations that the notion of returning to school didn't interest him. And the shock of his mother's passing in 1988 deepened his resolve to help his father at the helm. By the time he turned 40, Mariotti was calling the shots as president and CEO, with little time to reflect on the degree he left behind.

But in recent years, friends — including longtime pal and USF alumnus Ted Bogusz — suggested that Mariotti should complete his degree. At 53, Mariotti took the plunge, enrolling in classes at USFSM in the summer of 2014.

He took only one class per semester to balance schoolwork and his business responsibilities, plus he made time to get involved on campus. He became a member of the Community Leadership Council, including local business professionals, and took over as chair of the fundraising-focused Campaign Leadership Committee.

After 18 months, Mariotti finished the required classes and his long-faded dream was suddenly a reality: walking in a USF graduation. It was a moment to savor, tinged only with the regret that his parents had both passed away by now. But his sister and a group of close friends, including Bogusz, were there to cheer him on loudly.

"You know, it took a lot of guts to do what Bill did," Bogusz says. "When he was struggling a little bit, he got a tutor. Watching him walk across that stage, I almost cried. I've watched Bill grow through all of this and I'm extremely proud of him."

Now, Bill is giving back and helping USF grow - in multiple directions. He started off creating an endowed scholarship in Athletics to support women's rowing, and then decided to make his impact felt with a gift across the USF spectrum. His gift will benefit a multitude of areas including Business (at both USFSM and USF Tampa), Athletics, Arts, USFSM Facilities and Sigma Nu Fraternity.

Today, Mariotti's life revolves around USF almost as much as the family business that long ago pulled him away from the university.

On any given week, you can find him attending a USF event or meeting, enjoying a game or concert, or staying involved with one committee or another. When you miss out on 30 years, there are plenty of fulfilling ways to make up for lost time. But these days, it's almost as if Bill Mariotti, the man who turned back the clock to complete some unfinished business, never left at all.


Print This
Email This
Request Illustration
Download Brochure
scriptsknown