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Mackenzie Patel

I can’t remember the last time I thought about freshmen year of college. That era, when mini skirts with fishnets were a great fashion choice and frat parties were high class, seems unreachable now. The first few months of college, I was a wreck, a success, an enthusiast, and a doubter – all of my emotions and excitement were tied to the University of Florida. However, with two accounting internships dulling my senses and 67 credits making coursework commonplace, “college” is just another box to check off.

I recently read an editorial piece entitled Fall is coming. Revive the freshman in you on The Alligator website. Expecting fluffy words and Gator jingoism, I was surprised how much the article (author unknown) resonated with me. She/he wrote:

“After freshman year, the initial excitement of becoming a Gator has somewhat dulled. Challenging classes, cramming sessions at Marston Science Library and some questionably fuzzy nights spent at Midtown start to wear you down after a while…UF starts to lose its Disney World-like effect, and before you know it, it starts to feel like the real world.”

Pah! The author must’ve stolen my thoughts and beat me to scribbling them down. I’m still Gator as hell, but I feel like a jaded alumnus looking from the outside into some experimentation of youth. 20 years old has become the new 45, and I’m sad UF has lost its luster for me. This article reminded me why UF wooed me when I was a freshman – when I would walk through my schedule the day before class started – when I would voluntarily go to Grog – when I would check books out at Library West and actually read them. I became a person at the University of Florida. Before, I was a noodle with good SAT scores and a healthy body college hadn’t trashed yet. However, health affects aside, UF has given me more than an outgoing personality and a proclivity towards trying anything new. Here are a few reasons I’m in love with – and can’t wait to reunite with – UF in ten days. This countdown can’t come fast enough.

She’s given me Ben Hill Griffin stadium, a place I’ve spent more time writing and eating Subway in than attending football games. A quiet place to call my mom and a perch to watch the runners, it’s not just a collection of sticky seats. I never exercised there, but people watching is far more entertaining.

She’s funded the Later Gator B, an RTS bus that’s seen more vomit and H&M crop tops than a hooker, to drive me home from Midtown. Grog would be wild – Social would be sparkly and new – and no one remembers Envy, but I would never pay for an uber after partying. And she was so responsible as well! Later Gator stops running at two o’ clock a.m., so I would be forced to quit my revelry and arrive home at the respectable hour of three a.m.

She’s put on career showcase, the event where I scored two internships with Deloitte. My accounting major has caused more drama than any relationship or night at The Atlantic, but at least my future isn’t a gray blob. She also gave me a reason to buy a blazer, even if it was $30 and I’ve worn it three times (for my past three showcases).

She’s built excellent lookout points to watch the sunrise at 5 a.m. from – Ben Hill, McKethan Field, the watch tower on Gale Lemerand. No one is awake and the Gatorade trucks haven’t arrived – there’s only clarity and the nagging feeling that I might be kidnapped. It’s okay – she has also provided self defense classes to keep me safe.

She’s blessed with a meme page, Swampy UF Memes for Top Ten Public Teens, that had enough humor for my mediocre meme to get 1,000 likes. She’s verified that UF is a cult of little shits that procrastinate studying and are too clever for their own good.

She made my weight fluctuation feel okay since a few pounds was a fair trade for eating Blaze, Relish, Hyppo pops, and Copper Monkey. She also taught me how to be a sorority girl at Peach Valley and Kiki’s Breakfast Café.

She let me skip class when I was feeling shitty and friendless and provided enough resources for me to pass the final exam anyway. She understood that talking with friends and wasting time underneath a tree at the Reitz was more important.

She made me thrilled to be drunk, sweaty, and nearly dying of heat stroke at 3:30 p.m. football games. As long as my slippery arms were around an equally schlammered person during We Are The Boys, I could die happy. And how my creativity has exploded – flasks in cowgirl boots and taping Ziploc bags of liquor under my seat is a tradition I’m bound to honor.

She’s pissed me off with Newell Hall, the money funneled to the football program, and dodgy advisors – but I’m Gator as fuck whenever I’m not in Gainesville or someone insults my school.  As I’ve interned with UGA and FSU interns for the past two summers, I am disgustingly proud to be a Florida Gator.

She’s a nature preserve with Paynes Prairie, Cedar Woods botanical gardens, and Lake Wauberg a SW 34th trip away – whenever I’m cloudy or a bit obtuse, I can count on her IFAS trees, kayaks I can rent with my Gator1, and an observation deck that’s perfect for Thursday night snogging.

She’s given me relationships, platonic and romantic, that are so intertwined with Gainesville that the landscape of my personal life wouldn’t be the same without it. I met my boyfriend in Dr. Clarke’s plants class; I met my roommate in an architecture class Summer B Freshmen year; I met my accounting squad in a physics class I didn’t learn much in. My network of friends makes this campus seem like a small, Southern town, where everyone knows each other and streets like Wacahoota Road exist.

Most of all, she’s given me a place to grow up in and try to figure out what I’m doing with my life. That question is still unanswered, but a few more years at UF should solve it. All I need is to remember what it felt like to be 18, impressionable, and restless to build myself.

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