Pomp and circumstance collided last weekend for the man who has served as the Destin Fishing Rodeo weighmaster for the last 25 years.
Bruce Cheves was awarded the University of West Florida Presidential Medal of Honor, during its Spring 2013 Commencement ceremony at the Pensacola Bay Center on May 4.
"Wow … it was something else," said Cheves. "I've never done anything like this."
Cheves who knew he was going to be recognized and awarded the medal was still quite nervous going in. It has been more than four decades since he's donned the graduate attire.
"My high school graduation was the last time I wore a cap and gown, but it was cool," he said. Cheves graduated from Seaside High School in California in 1969.
When he arrived at the Bay Center last Saturday he was ushered into a room full of professors. He thought he was going to walk in with the other graduates, but then he was told he would be sitting up on "the block," or stage, with the professors.
"I was nervous as hell," he said.
"I got to sit next to the president," he added.
But to get rid of the jitters, when looking out over the thousands that filled the auditorium, Cheves said, "I just pretended I was at the Rodeo and got into character."
During the graduation ceremony, UWF President Judy Bense presented Cheves with the UWF Presidential Medal of Honor.
The award, established by Bense in 2012, is given to individuals who have distinguished themselves by their actions and have contributed in some manner to the well-being of the university and the geographical region, primarily through public service and philanthropy.
Cheves was recognized for his long-standing service within UWF’s service region as he promotes Destin’s heritage and educates thousands of locals and visitors about fishing, maritime history and local legends. He has initiated programs that introduce and promote fishing among kids, particularly those from disadvantaged situations. In 2010, the city of Destin honored Cheves by naming Oct. 16 “Bruce Cheves Day.”
As Bense presented the award, she recognized Cheves for his dedication to serving Destin and the Northwest Florida region.
“Cheves’ knowledge of the Gulf, marine life habits and habitats, various world records and his recollections of local history, legends and dockside personalities are deep and impressive,” Bense said. “His service to the Destin community is unsurpassed and worthy of recognition.”
Cheves' medal was in a box. Although he hasn't taken it out and tried it on yet, he said, "I look at it a lot. And without a doubt it will be on display at the Rodeo … somewhere."
"It was quite an honor for me," Cheves said. "To walk into the civic center with a lot of people … it was wild. It was a first time for me, but something I'll remember for the rest of my life."