On their way to a last-minute trip to Melbourne, Board of Trustees Vice Chair Michael Griffin and his wife, Melanie, pulled into a parking lot to record a video of him giving a speech as he was inducted as chair of the Tampa Bay Chamber — the same day their adoptive son, Maverick, was born.
The luncheon, attended by more than 1,000 people, including top community and business leaders, featured Griffin’s video announcing the birth of his son.
“That was the day that Maverick decided to make his entrance into the world and … Mike had to miss [the luncheon],” Melanie said. “I honestly felt bad … [because] that was a big moment for him, something that he has been working for so many years, and he wasn’t able to be there.”
The moment Griffin held his son in his arms for the first time, however, nothing else mattered as much.
“I held him like he was my own,” Griffin said. “It was, second to our wedding, by far the best moment of my life. Never looking back, just excited about being a dad to him.”
The same commitment Griffin has toward his family is reflected in his dedication and service to the Tampa Bay area. Now, he is leading the university in the search for its next president.
“This is by far the most important job I’ve had at USF, or volunteer position I’ve had chairing the search committee and I feel like everything that I’ve done has prepared me for this role,” Griffin said.
From representing the student body as SG president to leading the Presidential Search Committee, Griffin said his commitment to the community goes beyond titles.
“Sometimes you seek leadership positions and sometimes they find you,” Griffin said. “I love the university community and I’m going to keep stepping up until I can’t anymore, or until people don’t want me around anymore.
“I’m a big believer in everything we’re doing, but I think more importantly, what else we can be doing that we haven’t done yet, and to be part of a team is extremely exciting.”
His leadership roles and involvement in the region started at USF as an undergraduate student when he was elected as student body president in 2001, and reelected in 2002. The connections made during his time at USF helped with Griffin’s involvement at the Tampa Bay Chamber in 2003 after graduation.
Within a year, he was selected to serve as the charter co-chair of Emerge Tampa Bay, a young professional leadership program for 21 to 35 year-olds.
Griffin credits his drive to learn and make the best of the opportunities presented to him as one of the reasons behind his continuous growth and success in the field.
“I never really asked for permission on these kinds of roles, I just kind of put myself out there to say ‘Hey I want to lead, I want to go do that. Well, let’s do this together.’ And I think that one of the best things I learned is don’t wait to be tapped on the shoulder, sometimes you just got to rush to the door,” Griffin said.
“I was able to get involved very quickly with the community here in Tampa Bay [and] I just haven’t looked back.”
His leadership goes beyond what’s in front of the public eye, according to Melanie. Besides juggling roles and administrative business, Griffin also dedicates time out of his busy schedule to have one-on-one mentorship sessions with students.
“He is deeply passionate [and] loves to mentor,” Melanie said. “What is impressive about him is that he’s not only giving back in big impactful roles, but I can’t tell you the number of times that he goes to coffee or lunch with a student or takes a call.
“Sometimes when people get to bigger roles, I get it, they’re really busy. It’s easy to let the smaller ways that you get back go, and so the fact that he continues to give back in a smaller way simultaneously, I think, is extra impressive.”
Alum Rhondel Whyte was among those students mentored by Griffin, and as a result, found a family outside of his home island of Trinidad and Tobago. He met Griffin in 2015 as part of a mentorship program connecting USF Ambassadors and its alumni, and from the first meeting onward, they connected and started building a strong friendship.
“Once that happened, it wasn’t just the relationship, professional-mentor. He was just someone who was invested in me as a person, invested in all of the different areas of my life from a growth perspective,” Whyte said.
Not having a father figure while growing up, Whyte said Griffin was someone he looked up to as a father, and the relationship they cultivated over the years was instrumental for his personal and professional growth.
“I recall on that first Thanksgiving, we were outside just in the gallery having a conversation about everything. I told him, ‘You are like a father figure to me, and I appreciate you for being a part of my life because I don’t think my life trajectory would look the way it did had you not stood in a role for me,” Whyte said.
Griffin’s involvement with the Tampa Bay community was imminent since childhood. All along, Griffin knew he wanted to stay in Tampa to help the city grow and raise his family.
He met Melanie during a student government conference in high school, but they didn’t start dating until years later when she was attending law school at FSU. They got engaged in November 2007 and married in February 2009.
As they started building their life together, they began thinking about expanding their family. They decided to adopt since they were unable to conceive.
“I always really wanted to adopt and I was really grateful that Mike, early on, I think really was hopeful that we’d have a biological child, but when that didn’t come to fruition, he was just so accepting,” she said.
“[He] was really the one who ran with our application and brought it over the finish line and … he really played such a pivotal role in that and I’m so grateful.”
The couple made the decision to go through adoption a year and a half before Maverick was born. Just 10 days before his birth, the couple got matched to Maverick’s birth parents.
“I’m a man of faith and I’m a believer that God brought us together,” Griffin said.
Despite the wait and the anticipation created during the adoption process, Melanie admired the way Griffin was supportive and embraced the new journey they were about to venture on.
“From day one, I think he was born to be a dad, I mean he absolutely loves Maverick … Mike loves doing all that kinds of stuff with Maverick and I know that will only continue to grow,” Melanie said.
Griffin said his responsibilities were elevated the moment he became a father, and he hopes his son follows in his footsteps as he grows up and becomes more involved in the community.
“So much of what we do and so much that we fight for is for [Maverick],” Griffin said. “I want him to be proud of the community [and] be proud of his dad for what he’s doing to the community that he’s going to grow up in.”