For the love of France

For his promotion of French language and culture, he received the highest academic honor the French government can bestow, but French professor Eugene Scruggs said he originally intended to major in physics.

Scruggs said the origin of his love affair with France sprang from a chance opportunity to take a grant-assisted crash course in French during the summer of 1957.

“For 10 weeks (the students) took an oath to speak only French,” Scruggs said. ” We had classes together, ate our meals together, slept in the same dorm and watched French movies at night, and pretty soon I was dreaming in French.”

After more than 30 years of teaching and organizing exchange visits, Scruggs was honored by the government of France Wednesday at a ceremony in the Marshall Center. Scruggs received the prestigious “Chevalier de l’Ordre des Palmes Academiques” from Delia Mata-Ciampoli, French deputy consul and cultural attaché with the French consulate in Miami. The award, inaugurated by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1808, is awarded to scholars who have made a significant contribution to French culture, language or art. The award is granted by ministerial decree.

Receiving the decoration in front of family, friends and colleagues, Scruggs said, had been an emotional but rewarding experience.

“I feel honored but awed. It’s a humbling experience to find that the French government, after all these years, has awarded me such a distinguished title,” he said. “I did not think when I got into this field that anything like this would happen – it’s very gratifying.”

Mata-Ciampoli said Scruggs had made a tremendous contribution to the promotion of French language and culture over many years. She said Scruggs had performed an integral role assisting many students obtain scholarships and in coordinating countless exchange visits. She also cited his two published works on French civilization and his work for the Florida Consortium for International Education.

Scruggs was nominated for the award by Robert Vitali, director for International Education at Miami Dade Community College. His nomination was initially considered by the by the Consul in Miami and then by the French minister of education. Scruggs said the award had long slipped from his mind when, out of the blue, he received a letter in December informing him he would be a recipient.

USF President Judy Genshaft congratulated Scruggs and said his achievements during many years warranted such an accolade.

“This is quite an honor for the University of South Florida and for Professor Scruggs. It is well-deserved and earned,” Genshaft said.

Diana Navarro, a student of Scruggs, said she was delighted that his work had been recognized.

“I would say he has been the best teacher I have had in my life,” Navarro said. “He makes the idea of the French culture interesting to everyone.”

Scruggs said it was his love of learning and French culture that enabled him to maintain his enthusiasm for teaching.

“I loved being a student, so if you’re a teacher, you’re a constant student. You get to read the literature over and over again and continue to learn about the culture,” Scruggs said.