Interview by Michael Davis (B.A. ’03)
As the Panther Band helped boost Georgia State to its first victory of the season Saturday, it got the invitation it’s been waiting nearly two years to receive.
At halftime of the Panthers’ 20-9 win over the University of North Carolina at Charlotte at Center Parc Stadium, the Panther Band welcomed to the field Bob Miller, president and chairman of the board of the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association. He came to Atlanta to visit Georgia State and to extend the organization’s formal invitation to the 2022 New Year’s Day Tournament of Roses Parade.
The Panther Band was slated to march in the 132nd parade in 2021, but amid the ongoing pandemic, the parade was canceled by the association for only the second time in its history. The first time was in 1942, following the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
For the parade’s 133rd year, the association is inviting back all the groups it invited to the 2021 event.
Miller, who has spent his career as a community college educator, administrator and consultant, visited Georgia State last weekend with his wife Barbara to meet with Panther Band members, staff and other university leaders, and to present the Tournament of Roses flag at halftime of Saturday’s game. During his visit, we sat down with Miller to find out more about the New Year’s Day tradition and this year’s theme of “Dream. Believe. Achieve.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How are the participating bands selected for each year’s Rose Parade?
First and foremost, let me say it is not easy to get an invitation to participate. We look for the very best in high school and college and university bands to participate. Every year we invite roughly 17 bands, plus the five that normally participate. We have somewhere between 35 million and 45 million viewers in the U.S. and another 15 million to 25 million international viewers, so that means we have to bring bands in from all around the world. What we look for are bands that not only are talented but also significant to the communities they support. Georgia State, being an urban university and a very unique university in the case of the population it serves so well, and the Panther Band being a relatively young program, it’s a remarkable story. It’s not just about the quality of musicianship and their sound, it’s the story behind them. It’s about their community engagement. It’s about being the “Sound of Downtown.”
How does Georgia State fit into the Rose Parade’s theme this year of “Dream. Believe. Achieve?”
The underlying meaning of that theme is really a celebration of education. I’ve spent my career, about 44 years, in community college education and to me education is the great equalizer. To break cycles of illiteracy and poverty, we need not just quality education but, specifically, quality public education. When Georgia State University was being considered, it fit the theme incredibly well. It certainly resonated with Barbara and I as it related to what we, as a family, have done to support education throughout the decades. What was also interesting about the band and the program is it’s one of those things the community can rally around. This campus just blows me away in terms of its setting and the many, many blocks at the heart of Atlanta that the university represents. It’s the people’s university, it truly is.
What can members of the Panther Band look forward to on the day of the parade?
There are somewhere between 95 and 102 units in every one of our parades. It starts at the corner of Orange Grove and Colorado boulevards and makes that famous turn onto Colorado Boulevard to a sea of thousands upon thousands of people. The Panther Band students are going to get the memory of a lifetime as they look down the street. It’s a 5 ½-mile route and it takes a lot of conditioning to be able to march 5 ½ miles. On a normal year, somewhere between 650,000 and 850,000 people will be up and down that parade route. It’s a Southern California tradition, and a national and international tradition as well.
What makes college football on New Year’s Day, and the Rose Parade, such a remarkable tradition?
Our parade, “America’s New Year celebration,” is a celebration of new beginnings. With this particular parade, with the help of Georgia State and so many other bands and great float participants and sponsors, we’re going to be celebrating healthy new beginnings. The other part of our parade this year is a celebration of the strength and perseverance of science and scientists, first responders, essential workers and healthcare professionals who have made it possible for this parade to happen. They’ve made it possible for us all to begin to get back to a way of life we once knew. This year, in particular, we think that’s going to mean even more, and we’ve got a couple of surprises in the parade we hope will remind people of that. Every year, what we hope the Rose Parade and the Rose Bowl game bring to everyone is a new beginning and a sense of celebration and opportunity.
Photo by Meg Buscema