Welcome to the start of the Fall Semester and the new academic year! Since Linda and I live on campus, we experience the new semester much like students. In the past few days, I’ve listened to the Gator Band practicing for football halftime, handed out T-shirts and seriously considered riding the mechanical gator at GatorNights in the Reitz, dropped by the Gator Fair on the Plaza of the Americas, and paid for the orders of those ahead of me in line at Marston Library Starbucks. Today, the first day of classes, I’m planning, if they let me, to drive a golf cart around campus, shouting out random compliments on my way to sitting in on a class. Professor Foley, brace yourself for someone wearing a suit who asks awkward questions. As our children say frequently, serving as UF’s president is a tough job, but someone has to do it.
Although I have never looked forward as much to a new academic year, the start of this semester is different than I anticipated just last month. I didn’t expect to be wearing a mask while indoors, and I didn’t expect that I would soon need to get a COVID booster shot. In the past few weeks, the COVID delta variant has spread across our state and our Gainesville community, setting stunning records for new cases per day and filling our hospitals to capacity. Our heroic healthcare workers have never been more strained and exhausted as they care for the desperately ill.
We as a Gator community will decide whether this fall semester is one of the very best in the history of the university, or one of the worst with wide-spread serious illness and possible death. If all students, staff, and faculty get vaccinated and wear a mask while indoors, then it will be one of the very best semesters ever. If I could, I would guarantee a fabulous semester by forcing every student, faculty member, and staff to wear a mask and get vaccinated, but I can’t. Thus, I ask everyone to make the right choice—get the shot and wear the mask.
This fall, Linda and I will be inviting students into our Dasburg House home once a month for lunch and a talk by a member of the UF faculty. The first talk next month will be by Cynthia Barnett, and I’m buying every student who attends a copy of her new book The Sound of the Sea: Seashells and the Fate of the Oceans. We’ll soon advertise on social media how to sign up for the talk.
Although studying and working at a university is always serious, I very much look forward to filling this fall semester with not only hard work, but also lots of purposeful fun. Work hard, wear the mask, get the shot and have a joyful fall. I am confident that this is going to be a wonderful year. Go Gators!