A historic (and fun) academic year


Welcome, students!

Whether you’re returning to UF, recently graduated from high school, attended college elsewhere or have arrived from another country, I am so pleased you are at UF.

This is a historic academic year.

It is the first year in over a century when we have begun classes during a pandemic. It is the first year when so many classes are online. It is an abnormally active hurricane year and a presidential election year. It is a year when we’re all asking, “What could be next?”

I have two goals for this historic academic year.

My first goal is that we live and learn successfully amid COVID-19. My second goal is that we experience joy, have fun and share a great year together.

I know that my two goals may sound unreasonable to students who face many pressures. Not just academic pressures, but also pandemic pressures.

I know that students face the constant need to take precautions against COVID-19 -- from wearing masks that are often hot and uncomfortable to avoiding the large gatherings that are so much a part of college life. Not only that, but students also face the pressure of being blamed if the pandemic spreads.

However, having been at UF for nearly six years, I’ve seen students do amazing things.

I’ve watched students repeatedly bounce back from closures and hardships due to hurricanes. I saw students leave campus and rapidly transition to online classes in the spring. I’ve met many, many individual students and alumni who overcame major life challenges to come to UF and thrive here. Because of those experiences, I know we can and will live and learn with great success this academic year.

And the joy and fun part?

I know that being intentionally joyful, smiling and laughing is important to my personal wellbeing.  I believe we will be most successful in living and learning in the midst of the deadly serious COVID virus, if we all practice intentional joy.

So I accepted the challenge when, earlier this month, UF Student Government President Trevor Pope suggested I die my hair Orange & Blue if  students signed the COVID safety pledge, #IPledgeFlorida..

I announced that if 95% of the student body signed the pledge, I would shave my head AND die the left side orange and the right side blue.

As of Friday, more than 10,000 students had signed the pledge -- which is an amazing number, but not 95%. However, in honor of those who signed, and just for fun, I will dye my hair orange and blue this week.


And now the students of FSU and UF have agreed on a new challenge.

We won’t play FSU in football this year, unless we meet in a bowl game.   However, we are going to compete to see which university can get the most new student signatures on their COVID pledges -- UF’s #IPledgeFlorida versus FSU’s #PledgeTLH.

The president of the losing school will have to wear the rival school’s colors, say “Go Noles” or “Go Gators,” and sing the rival school’s alma mater.

FSU President John Thrasher is a good friend and I think the world of him.  But with no malice in my heart, I would love to see President Thrasher dressed in Gator gear, shout “Go Gators!” and sing …

‘Neath the Orange and Blue victorious
our love shall never fail
There’s no other name so glorious
All hail, Florida, hail.

The competition ends at 11:59 p.m. Sunday, Sept.13. The winner will be the school that gets the most new student signers between today’s launch and the end of the competition, since both UF and FSU already had signatures before the launch.

If you haven’t signed the UF pledge for COVID safety already, please do so by September 13.  I will be devastated if I have to say “Go Noles” or sing anything about Garnet and Gold.

We can live and learn with great success and we can have fun doing it.  This is a historic year, and I look forward to making history with you.  Go Gators!