Call him Dr. Petty. On Friday, Tom Petty received a special posthumous award: an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Florida.
University officials from the board of trustees voted unanimously on the motion to recognize the late musician, who was arguably the most famous native resident of their city.
Petty and his music have special ties to the school. Not only did the rock icon grow up in Gainesville, Florida, his seminal hit “I Won’t Back Down” has been adopted by the University of Florida’s athletic teams as their unofficial theme song of sorts.
“[He’s] widely considered among the most distinctive and influential musicians over the past 50 years,” UF provost Joseph Glover said during the ceremony according to reporting by the Tampa Bay Times. “His presence remains significant as seen by abundant radio airplay and the popularity of events such as the Tom Petty birthday bash held in Gainesville. On the UF campus, Petty’s famous ‘I Won’t Back Down’ has become a mantra at athletic events and I personally have heard President [Kent] Fuchs sing it.”
During his remarks, the provost also listed off the rocker’s many musical achievements during his storied, decades-long career, including three Grammy awards, an American Society of Composers award, a Gershwin Award for Lifetime Musical Achievement from UCLA, the Authors and Publishers’ Golden Note Award, and Billboard’s Century Award. In addition, Petty was the recipient of the university’s Distinguished Achievement Award back in 2006.
Last month, YouTube premiered its new documentary Somewhere You Feel Free: The Making of ‘Wildflowers,’ which chronicled the creation of Petty’s now-classic 1994 solo album.