UF confers honorary doctor of music degree on Tom Petty

Getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and winning multiple Grammys, the Billboard Century Award, and other prestigious music industry awards may be tough acts to follow… But at the Spring 2023 University of Florida commencement ceremonies, Gainesville’s beloved rock icon, Tom Petty (1950-2017), received an accolade like none before.

You can call him Doctor Tom Petty, now.

The UF School of Music conferred an honorary Doctor of Music degree on Tom Petty at the Spring 2023 Doctoral Ceremony on May 4, 2023. 

A virtual livestream of the 2023 UF Spring Doctoral Ceremony is at this link

“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 Kevin Orr, director of the UF School of Music. 

“Tom Petty’s tireless defense of the rights of performing artists, and his compassionate advocacy for the wellbeing of his neighbors in every community where he lived, are embodied by the students and faculty of the UF School of Music: commitment to one’s artistic passions, even in the face of challenges; the safeguarding of creative work to ensure unique and lasting impact; and indeed, the power of music to advance causes for the greater good in society,” Dr. Orr said. 

Dr. Petty’s honorary degree from UF is just one aspect of the late musician’s and his family’s growing legacy at his hometown university. The Petty family recently announced a $100,000 donation to establish the Tom Petty Endowment for Guitars & Innovation in the UF College of the Arts.

The Petty family’s investment will expand the School of Music’s Guitar program, as well as the new Music Business & Entrepreneurship (MBE) program. Learn about the MBE program here.

Widely considered among the most distinctive and influential musicians of the past 50 years, Tom Petty formed his first band, Mudcrutch in 1970, while he was a teenager living in Gainesville, before moving to Los Angeles in the mid-1970s to launch Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers.

Across a music career spanning more than three decades, Tom Petty earned multiple Grammy awards, MTV Music Awards, the Billboard Century Award, Radio Music Awards ‘Legend’ Award, and other top industry honors. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002. 

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.

Tom Petty is also widely recognized and remembered for his philanthropy and service to the communities he called home in Los Angeles and Gainesville, and his commitment to environmental causes. He is the recipient of some of the highest honors in philanthropy, including Midnight Mission’s Golden Heart Award (2011), and MusicCares ‘Person of the Year’ at the 2017 Grammy Awards.  

“It is so incredible for everyone in the family that UF is honoring our dad in his hometown this way. 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," said the late rocker’s daughter, Adria Petty.

In addition to the UF doctoral ceremony on May 4, UF College of the Arts also honored Tom Petty at the college’s separate College of the Arts Spring 2023 Recognition Ceremony.

“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. 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,” said Onye Ozuzu, dean of UF College of the Arts.

​The Cade Museum partnered with the UF School of Music to celebrate the conferral of Tom Petty’s honorary doctoral degree. On May 4, the Cade hosted a showing of the documentary "Tom Petty: Somewhere You Feel Free," which features never-before-seen footage, new interviews and an inside look at Tom Petty’s creative process as he constructs his landmark 1994 album “Wildflowers.”

UF News May 11, 2023