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Office of Vice President and
Chief of Staff
Florida Gulf Coast University
10501 FGCU Blvd S.
Fort Myers, FL. 33965-6565

Phone: (239) 590-1006
Fax:     (239) 590-1066

Press Release


Heroes and "Doing the Right Thing": FGCU Establishes Presidential Commendation of Honor

FORT MYERS, FL - Florida Gulf Coast University is going to recognize many exceptional faculty, staff, administration and students during its Fourth Annual Celebration of Excellence Awards ceremony. The University also wants to recognize someone for “doing the right thing.” On Friday, April 27, FGCU will present a new award that it is calling the highest honor bestowed upon a member of the University community. This new award is the Presidential Commendation of Honor.

FGCU President William C. Merwin will personally present the award to the recipient - who has been kept secret - to give the award proper merit and significance. The University established the award in response to a proposal from the Staff Advisory Council to recognize special acts of heroism by members of the FGCU community. It was the story of two real-life heroes, both FGCU employees, which compelled the proposal.

“We noticed a small blue car that was ahead of us pull to the curb and stop,” Cathy Duff, Assistant Dean of Planning and Evaluation, later related. She and fellow employee, Linda Ciprich, FGCU Inspector General, were leaving the campus for lunch when they saw the car. “We both commented that we wondered if the person was having trouble.”

Skeptical, yet concerned, they pulled over too.

“I was a couple of car lengths ahead of the car when I finally pulled to the curb and stopped. By the time that I got out of the car, I’d become concerned. We apprehensively approached the blue car.”

“As I approached the driver’s door, I saw fingers sticking out of a window that was rolled down only a few inches. It was really eerie - the fingers were waving wildly as if to beckon me to come.”

“I opened the driver’s side of the car and the driver, a young man and the only occupant, was slumped forward and to the right. I felt a little silly asking the question, but I said, ‘Are you all right?’ He didn’t answer. Then I asked, ‘Are you choking?’ I felt he indicated yes.”

“He didn’t have the strength to get out of the car himself. I was closest to him, so I put my arms under his arms and shoulders from the back and pulled him out of the car. Linda helped hold him up. His legs were really weak so it took both of us to steady him.”

“I somewhat timidly made a fist and did what I thought a person did for the Heimlich maneuver. He then took my hand and gently repositioned my hands. That’s when I knew that he really was choking and I was doing the right thing.”

“I made two forceful thrusts. I heard something come out of his throat and he began to gasp and cough. A piece of celery had been lodged in his throat.”

“He said that things were spinning and getting really fuzzy, losing consciousness, as we drove by and that he was afraid that we wouldn’t stop because, with tinted windows, we couldn’t see what was happening. He said that he was thinking about his five-year-old son and thinking that he would never see him again.”

The young man had been visiting the FGCU library just before the incident. As he left the campus, he took a bite of celery while shifting the manual transmission of his car. Somehow, the bodily motion used in changing gears had lodged the piece of celery in his throat.

FGCU devised the Presidential Commendation of Honor with no formal criteria or nomination process and a simple mission statement to guide bestowment. The criteria, frequency and number of awards is left solely to the discretion of FGCU Presidents with the hope that they will do so with careful deliberation and honor the spirit of the award.

Duff says that hindsight of the incident has heightened her awareness of the potential impact of our choices on others and of our own dependence of the actions of others. Rather than feeling over confident, the incident has left her feeling more aware of the times that she didn’t or wouldn’t make the “right” choice. Like many people, she says she often feels insignificant, but that day she wasn’t insignificant to the young man.

“I really feel that it was a joint effort with both Linda and me being equally important. People drive by stopped cars all the time. I’ve done it myself. Why did we stop that day? Would I have stopped if I had been by myself? I don’t have the answers to those questions. I do know that I was a little unnerved that night and for the next few days,” she said. “How quickly circumstances and life can change. It probably helped me more than it helped him. I’m so glad that everything had a happy ending.”

For more information about the award, contact Steven Belcher, FGCU Director of Human Resources, at (941) 590-1425.

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