After an amazing 24-year run, UM’s beloved mascot Sebastian the Ibis is retiring from his duties on the UM license plate. Any day now, the old plate will disappear to make way for a new plate featuring the now iconic split-U in a design chosen by alumni. But there’s still time to head to a Florida auto tag agency and get the classic tag, which no doubt will become a collector’s item.
The new plate will be available in Florida tag agencies in January 2014, costing just $25 per year more than the standard state tag for vehicles registered in Florida. As was the case with the Sebastian plate, which debuted in 1989, the extra $25 generated from each U tag sale will be directed to University of Miami Alumni Scholarships for UM students.
Over its lifespan, UM’s custom tag has racked up nearly 80,000 sales, raising nearly $2 million for the scholarship fund. And now that the split orange and green U, which was once the domain solely of athletics, has evolved into one of the most recognizable institutional symbols in the world, University officials say it’s time to put it on the road wherever ’Cane-loving Florida motorists go.
“Sebastian is a very important part of our history and of the present-day experience at the U,” said Jacqueline R. Menendez, vice president for University Communications. “But we also recognize the U is iconic. It is our visual identity—diverse, modern, confident, and bold. Sebastian is our mascot and represents us very well, but it’s time to send the U on the road.”
UM alumnus Jim Watt, AB ’66, a former state legislator who happens to be the father of the UM tag and the 119 other specialty plates sold in Florida today, couldn’t agree more. Among the first to have a UM plate—emblazoned with CANES66—he inherited his late father’s UM 52 plate in 1994. Walter Watt wore No. 52 as a star running back for the ’Canes, and for 47 years, held the record for the longest punt return.
The senior Watt also met his wife at UM and their son, who also met his wife at UM—Susan Schlemm was a majorette in the Band of the Hour—attended his first ’Cane game as a baby. Forty years later, as a state representative from Palm Beach County, the junior Watt drove to Georgia on a weekend getaway from the legislative session when he saw a car sporting a University of Georgia license plate.
Thinking the idea brilliant and determined to have his own UM plate, Watt researched the law that created Georgia’s specialty tags and found a huge flaw: the extra fee for each specialty plate was deposited in Georgia’s general fund, not redirected to the school the plate supported.
“That was a big mistake,’’ Watt said. “I am an attorney, but I know enough about marketing to know that alumni would buy more plates if they knew the money was going back to their alma maters. Georgia took the incentive away.”
With Watt guiding the legislation, Florida did not make the same mistake, and today the UM plate is the 16th most popular specialty plate in the state, eclipsing the Miami Dolphins. Boasting tens of thousands more alums, UF, the state’s largest public university, is No. 1.
Watt gladly voted for the new plate – he and daughter Jennifer Watt Frankl were among the 6,000 alums who took part in the online contest – because he knows the incalculable value of the U. “I will be very proud to have the U on my plate,’’ he said.