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WW's Florine Mark to LTU grads: 'Today is a gift'

Release Date: December 3, 2022

Graduates, family, and friends gathered in Don Ridler Field House Saturday morning for the Fall Semester Commencement. 
LTU photo / Matt Roush

SOUTHFIELD—In her own words, Florine Mark—renowned business leader, women’s advocate, motivational speaker—was once a “fat little girl who hated herself.”

Growing up poor on Detroit’s west side, part of an extended family of 14 squeezed into a single house, she said food was always the family’s main comfort. “The biggest room in our house was the dining room,” she said.

But as a young woman, her travels took her to New York, where she attended a new concept in healthy eating called Weight Watchers. And on that program, she lost 40 pounds. Its founder asked Mark to bring Weight Watchers to Detroit. And the rest, she told the graduating class of Lawrence Technological University at Saturday’s Fall Semester Commencement, is business history.

Mark would go on to become Weight Watchers International’s largest franchisee, moving to Mexico for a year to set up the company’s operations there, and eventually employing more than 4,000 people.

Mark told the graduates that they should write a list of the things they like and don’t like about themselves—and reflect that the list of likes is probably far longer than the list of dislikes. And, she said, “don’t ask yourself to do things you can’t do. I’m five-foot-five. I always wanted to be five-foot-seven. But I couldn’t found Grow Watchers. I learned to love five-foot-five.”

And she urged the graduates to give back to the community, citing her work with her mother in the March of Dimes after her sister was partially paralyzed by polio. She recalled that her mother convinced her to spend a dime on the March of Dimes rather than ice cream. A week later, she said, came news of a polio vaccine. Said Mark: “My mother said, ‘See? It was your dime!’”

Finally, she said, we should all treat every day as a gift. “Today is a gift, and it’s the only day that you have. You can’t do anything about yesterday, and hopefully we’ll be alive tomorrow, but today is the only day you have—try to make it excellent.”

As for Weight Watchers, she said, “It’s not about losing weight, it’s about getting healthy, eating the right foods, and moving. You have to move. I’m healthy and happy and giving back, and I wish the same for you.”

Saturday’s Commencement also saw LTU bestow its highest alumni honor, the Alumni Achievement Award, upon Saundra Little, partner and director of diversity and inclusion at the Detroit architecture firm Quinn Evans. Little, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in architecture from LTU in 1994 and 1998 respectively, is a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, Midwest vice president of the National Association of Minority Architects, and co-host of “Hidden in Plain Sight,” a podcast highlighting the work of African-American architects. She also co-founded Centric Design Studio, a minority owned architecture firm, and Noir Design Parti, a project that documents the professional journeys and creative works of Detroit’s Black architects, which was funded by a Knight Arts Grant.

“All of the things I was able to do came from the solid foundation I got at Lawrence Technological University,” she said in accepting the award. “I look forward to all the great achievements … and all the great stories from this graduating class.”

LTU President Tarek M. Sobh offered his congratulations to the graduates, noting that “many of you already have made differences to society through your internships and co-ops, and are walking into the future with jobs in hand. We look forward to charting your progress as you become integral global citizens of the world. Please continue to participate in the life of your university. LTU is your second family, and as many thought leaders have noted, we are stronger when we work together. LTU’s future students will benefit from your wisdom and leadership.” 

Lawrence Technological University is one of only 13 private, technological, comprehensive doctoral universities in the United States. Located in Southfield, Mich., LTU was founded in 1932, and offers more than 100 programs through its Colleges of Architecture and Design, Arts and Sciences, Business and Information Technology, and Engineering. PayScale lists Lawrence Tech among the nation’s top 11 percent of universities for alumni salaries. Forbes and The Wall Street Journal rank LTU among the nation’s top 10 percent. U.S. News and World Report lists it in the top tier of best in the Midwest colleges. Students benefit from small class sizes and a real-world, hands-on, “theory and practice” education with an emphasis on leadership. Activities on Lawrence Tech’s 107-acre campus include more than 60 student organizations and NAIA varsity sports.


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