Two degrees of separation and staying safe

I love the phrase "Every Gator Matters." It expresses the value of every member of the Gator family and our care for one another.

That phrase took on special significance in July, when I received an email from UF Professor Maria Coady inviting me to a small ceremony where she was to receive her son’s posthumous UF bachelor’s degree. I was unable to attend, but we subsequently met and I learned about her son Thomas and her work on behalf of all Gators.

I asked professor Coady if she would share her thoughts for this column.

This is her response:

"Frigyes Karinthy, a Hungarian philosopher, described a theory that has loosely become known as ‘six degrees of separation’ in 1929. Karinthy and his colleagues argued that using no more than five individuals, one of whom is a personal acquaintance, any individual could be contacted using only a network of personal acquaintances.

Remember — that was in 1929. Now, some 85 years later in our world of instant, Internet communication and social networks, our degrees of separation are more likely only two.

Close connections are especially true at UF. Last December, my son Thomas, a UF biology senior, died suddenly in a tragic motorcycle accident, along with another UF student who was his passenger.

Thomas was sharp, witty, compassionate, and careful, but his care as a rider was not enough to sustain him or his passenger from the impact of a pickup truck in a busy Gainesville intersection.

Words cannot describe the intense loss that I feel every day, and it would be heart-wrenching to see another member of our UF community experience a similar tragedy.

Thomas’ death has brought forth many people in our UF community who recount unsolicited stories of scooter or motorcycle angst. Some are tragic, like my son and his passenger’s, with devastating outcomes; others tell stories of unsafe riding, such as riding without helmets, eye protection, or closed-toe shoes.

Given our two degrees of separation, it’s likely that we all know someone who rides a scooter or motorcycle, but who is not riding safely.

Let’s change that. Tap a friend’s shoulder and let her know how important safe riding is to you and in our UF community.

This month, we are launching a UF Scooter and Motorcycle Safety Campaign. We will be giving away safe-riding gear this Saturday beginning two hours before the FAU football game at Gate 3 of the Stephen O’Connell Center. We hope to see you there! We will also release a safe riding film that will go online today at

So, #gatorsgearup. Don a helmet every time you ride, wear clear riding glasses at nighttime, always wear bright, reflective riding gear so that motor vehicle drivers can see you. Let’s close in on our two degrees of separation and keep each other and our community safe."

I hope we will always remember to express our care and affection for one another while watching out for each other on the roads. As we enter the final weeks of the semester, I wish everyone the very best.