It was the start of 2015, @OurTwoBits had done a small little contest on Twitter that if you retweeted them you had a chance to win a T-shirt. I was the very fortunate winner. A few weeks later the T-shirt arrived, not the one I expected, but one that would eventually change everything for me.
I GRADUATED FROM FLORIDA LET’S JUST ASSUME THAT I’M RIGHT.
I have only worn this T-shirt one time and said I would never wear it again until it was true. I pondered whether going back to school was the right move. I had just started a new job where I still work full time as a business analyst. At the same time, I had just endured being turned down for jobs because I didn’t have that piece of paper. Even if I did go back to school and work my behind off, I was concerned I would never be accepted to the University of Florida. That would probably have crushed my heart beyond belief.
For several weeks I continued to ponder the idea of going back to school. I had tried it before, and was fairly successful, but dropped out twice. Going to college was something I knew I needed to do, but I could never really just get into it.
My first round of college was at then Floyd College in Rome, “Middle of No Where” Georgia, where I would have to drive an hour one way two nights a week just to go to classes. That got old pretty fast. I took some basic classes and did fairly well. Because I had been out of high school for a few years and, well because I was a terrible high school student (partly because most of my High School teachers at Etowah were terrible) I had to take some “catch up classes.” I stayed at what is now Georgia Highlands College until the Fall of 1991 (I had dropped a course in 1992).
In 1997 I transferred to then Dekalb College that turned into Georgia Perimeter College that eventually merged with Georgia State University officially in 2016. I literally took 2 classes in 1997 and dropped again for five years. In 2000, I decided to give it another go, not because I necessarily wanted to, but because I felt like I had to. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t the best decision to force myself to get my degree again, but I did. I made it through both the spring and summer Semesters before I dropped out yet again in the Fall of 2000.
Why? I blame it on my World History professor, because well it can never be my fault right? To say I am outspoken and a bit opinionated at times, especially at that point of my life, is a bit of an understatement. This particular professor would say one thing one class… then contradict herself the very next class. Naturally I had to speak up and say something, to which she would insist she didn’t say what everyone is the class said she said. So I had enough of that and took a set of “W’s” and withdrew from classes yet again. For so many years, I felt it was the right decision and in many cases it probably was. Another big factor into my decision was I still had no clue what I was doing there or what I was trying to do or be.
Fast forward 15 years, which seems incredibly hard to believe it was that long ago, and one T-shirt put an idea in my head and in the summer of 2015 I was back in class full steam ahead. Since then I have taken 16 classes, including 5 in the summer 2016 (something I will never attempt ever again) and never had a grade below a B. In some cases, I was amazed I could even accomplish that. I am as shocked as you are. I was invited to several honor societies, and made the dean’s list several times. I did so while working full time, writing (well attempting to anyway) part time for The Collegian, The Signal and Peach State College Sports not to mention dabble in photography (which ironically was my original intent to major in when I went back to school) I did for this very same tiny corner of the universe.
What was different this time was I knew what I was trying to do. I knew what my goal was. Now I had to prove I could. Not just to myself, but my friends, my family and anyone else that second guessed where my heart was.
One of the first things I did was reach out to one man who so many other students have a lot of respect for. I sent professor Ted Spiker an email asking him for some pseudo advisement and to help me plan my way hopefully onto a path to UF. He didn’t have to, but he did so and was extremely helpful. He always answered honestly (and even held me accountable for a few things I would screw up on). But that just solidified that I knew what I was trying to do was the right thing. He encouraged me to start writing right away and I took that advice and ran with it covering college football and starting my beat covering the Georgia State Panthers that I had the honor of covering a historic year as they earned a trip to the Cure Bowl in my birth home of Orlando, Florida. I continued covering the Panthers through the 2016 football season.
Once I completed classes in the summer of 2016, I decided it was time to see if my dream could come true and applied to the University of Florida. I have never been so nervous and uptight in my life. Almost every day from the day I hit submit I logged in to check the status of my application. No lie. Almost. Every. Day.
I have had several people ask why and criticized the decision. “Why UF? It’s so expensive!” etc. etc. Yadda yadda yadda and so on. Yes, finishing at Georgia State would have been the better financial option. No there isn’t anything wrong with GSU and in fact I owe that university a lot for the experiences I will likely never have again. This was never going to be a decision based on money. Money was not going to get in my way. Part of the reason I set out to return to school was to go to and graduate from the University of Florida. That was one of the main goals. That is what I set out to do. It had to happen this time. I had to make that T-shirt true.
You see, I fell in love with Gator football. That spread to all the other sports including the club hockey team at UF and for the university and the city of Gainesville. At times when I was at games, or when I talked to alumni I would meet they would ask when I went to UF. My answer was always “I didn’t. I’m just a fan.” You would be surprised how often they would turn their nose up at that answer and at times I never felt like more of a low life. I didn’t just want to be a fan of Gator Nation. A huge Gator tattoo on my right arm. A season ticket holder for years. The owner of a piece of the basketball floor the Gators played on to win their second consecutive National Championship. A closet full of mostly orange and blue attire. A brick on the Gator Walk outside The Swamp not to mention an entire house full of other Gator related paraphernalia. That wasn’t enough. I wanted to be Gator through and through without question and without exception.
On Sept. 20, 2016, I was sitting on I-285 in typical rush hour traffic in Atlanta headed to my daily grind. An email popped up on my phone from “University of Florida.” My heart sank. I felt like I was going to puke to be honest. I was thoroughly afraid to read it. I was afraid, but fully prepared that I was rejected. I finally got up the courage to read the email. It said “Welcome to UF: your email account has been created.” Well what the hell does that mean? Am I accepted? I assumed so, but it didn’t say so. My heart was beating what seemed like a thousand miles a minute. Six hours later, I received a second email. This one was a bit more official.
Welcome to the Gator Nation! I’m pleased to be the first to congratulate you on your admission to UF Online.”
These emails couldn’t have been more perfectly timed. I was going through some serious burnout. I was barely sleeping, work was crazier than ever, deadline after deadline with the paper and all of my classes were getting pretty intense. Seeing these emails reinvigorated my soul and refueled my sense of purpose.
On Jan. 4, 2017, I officially started classes as a student at the University of Florida. Yes, it is all online and I am sure some punk will throw their nose up at that. I say fuck them. I am a officially a Gator through and through.
In a few years, thanks to OurTwoBits, I will be able to say I am a graduate of the University of Florida and I can wear that shirt with great pride. In fact, I fully intend to wear that shirt at my graduation ceremony.