Seneff Scholars celebrated during medaling ceremony at FSU President’s House

March 11, 2024

From left, College of Business Dean Michael Hartline, James and Martha Seneff, FSU President Richard McCullough and First Lady Jai Vartikar gather with the 2023 class of Seneff Scholars on the back steps of the FSU President’s House. Two scholars were unable to attend Friday’s ceremony.  Photo by Kallen Lunt/College of Business Click to enlarge.

James M. Seneff, an alumnus and a major supporter of Florida State University, on Friday encouraged a cohort of elite students in the College of Business to strive for, among other things, wisdom, lifelong learning and resilience.

“Ultimately, your life will depend on how resilient you are,” he said. When you’re strong like an oak tree, “you can get blown down by the wind. When you’re resilient, you bend and come back stronger than you were before.”

Seneff, a 2006 inductee into the College of Business Alumni Hall of Fame and the founder and executive chairman of the Orlando-based CNL Financial Group, spoke as the guest of honor in a medaling ceremony for the fifth cohort of the James M. Seneff Honors Program.

The program launched in fall 2019 through part of a $5 million gift to the college by the CNL Charitable Foundation to honor Seneff, who told scholars Friday about the 10,000 books in his library and about the power of reading and lifelong learning, both of which he champions “to build your capacity.”

“I tell my kids all the time, and I'll tell you the same thing: What you don't know will hurt you,” he said. “The faster that you can learn and get wisdom, the quicker you’ll be able to avoid …  downfalls."

The event took place at the FSU President’s House, where President Richard McCullough and First Lady Jai Vartikar welcomed 15 Seneff Scholars, plus their friends and family members. Two scholars from the current 2023 cohort were unable to attend the ceremony.

Also present were Michael Hartline, dean of the College of Business; Mark and Nan Hillis, who are longtime FSU supporters and members of the college’s Alumni Hall of Fame; retired FSU vice president Lee Hinkle, whose late husband, Clifford, remains enshrined in the Alumni Hall of Fame; and, of course, Seneff and his wife, Martha.

“We are forever grateful to both of you,” McCullough told the Seneffs. “The James M. Seneff Honors Program strengthens our academic excellence and enhances our national prominence.”

“To our Seneff Scholars,” McCullough added, “we honor your dedication, we celebrate your achievements, and we are  excited about your future.”

The program comprises a community of top undergraduate business students who benefit from an especially rigorous curriculum. It stresses innovation, leadership, collaboration and lifelong relationships. 

The Seneff program dovetails with the University Honors Program and the Garnet and Gold Scholar Society, and it allows students to gain educational benefits in disciplines beyond the College of Business.

“I salute you for being the pinnacle of what we try to achieve every day in the College of Business, and that's preeminence,” Hartline told the Seneff Scholars. “You have integrity, you exhibit tremendous leadership, and … when the president talks about how great the university is, you are at the very tip of that spear.”

During the ceremony, Luke Hopkins, a senior lecturer and the director of the Seneff Honors Program, called out each scholar’s name for medaling. Seneff placed a medal around each student’s neck and joined McCullough and Hartline in photos with all of them. 
“I hope all of you are committed to lifelong learning,” Seneff told students. “There's no other way to go forward.”

-- Pete Reinwald

The 2023 Seneff Scholars, selected last fall, are:

Anagrace Bennett (Finance ’26)

Bruno Berlanga Del Nero (Finance and MIS ’26)

Robbie Fishbein (Marketing ’25)

Gabriella Gonzalez (Accounting and Marketing ’25)

Sydney Gross (Accounting ’25)

Ingrid Maclean (Finance and MIS ’26)

Jaclyn Madson (Marketing ’26)

Eddie McDevitt (MIS ’25)

Cameron Mullin (Finance ’25)

Sheevam Patel (Finance ’26)

Emily Polatajko (Accounting ’25)

Natalie Reid (Marketing and Finance ’26)

Amari Riley (MIS ’24)

Amie Spatz (Marketing ’25)

Jovan St. Victor (RMI and Economics ’25)

Meghan Swan (Accounting and Finance ’25)

Caroline Zamek (Management ’26)