The first year in a new job or as a new student is stressful. I just finished my first year. Some of my stress came from leaving friends behind and not knowing if people at UF would like me, or if I would like them. Some of my anxiety came from not knowing if I would succeed in my new job.
There was also the stress and strain of my professional life, including difficult problems to solve, deadlines and too little time to do everything that needed to be done. As a new president, I experienced some of the stress and anxiety every new UF student experiences – and what every UF graduate experiences in their new jobs or new pursuits after leaving the university.
As I shared at Commencement in December, one way I have dealt with the challenges is to maintain a sense of self-deprecating humor and not to take myself too seriously, despite the pressures of the job.
For example, I’ve made silly videos trying to dance the Whip and Nae Nae and pretending to be Darth Vader, Mr. Two Bits and the Head Football Coach. Being purposeful in my humor has added joy to my life. However, the greatest impact has been on others. My attempts to be intentional with my smiles and humor, despite my own problems, have added joy to the lives of other people.
Also at commencement last month, I displayed a photo of thousands of new students that had been taken at Convocation a few months before. The photo included a freshman named Landon Rogers. Landon collapsed and passed away on Nov. 19 while working out with Air Force ROTC.
Before he died, Landon was well-known for his constant smile. In fact, he made a presentation in a class last semester on “The Effect of Smiling.” He ended his presentation with a quote from Mother Theresa: “I will never understand all the good that a simple smile can accomplish.”
Indeed, in the convocation photos, Landon can be seen with a broad smile on his face. Although I grow sad when I think of the students, staff and faculty we have lost in the past year, I am filled with joy when I see Landon’s smile. It is his gift to us this year.
I am trying to learn how to give that same gift of smiles, humor and joy to everyone at UF. If you see me walking across the Plaza of the Americas with a frown or scowl, please shout out and remind me to smile. I’ll do my best to make you laugh in the midst of your studies, work and life.