Holiday Light and Song for a Strong Finish

These final, hustling weeks of fall are among my favorite times on campus. We return refreshed by Thanksgiving break, ready to finish the semester strong and looking forward to the celebrations ahead — from graduation to the holidays and New Year.

One celebration I look forward to is this week’s lighting of UF’s Holiday Gator. Watch for this artful alligator sculpture to appear on the University Auditorium lawn today. Then on Wednesday, I hope you’ll join me to celebrate our official “Lighting of the Holiday Gator.” All are invited to gather at 5 p.m. Dec. 1st to enjoy hot cocoa and apple cider and other holiday treats—and great performances by members of three UF student groups: the Gator Marching Band, the UF Sunshine Steelers and the UF Concert Choir.

Gainesville metal artist and College of the Arts alumna Leslie Tharp created the Holiday Gator in 2019. Its commission was intended to provide encouragement, light and joy to everyone on campus as the days get shorter and the semester draws to a close. The sculpture’s orange and blue LED lights were brightened last year, making it especially luminescent—all the more so when backlit by the beautiful lights of Century Tower, which have also been brightened and colorized.

This is the season of light, and also of song. Another campus celebration I love is the Sounds of the Season concert presented by 300 performers in the UF School of Music. This year’s concert, “A Celebration of Healing & Harmony,” is set for 7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 5, at the Phillips Center. Free tickets will be distributed starting today at noon at the Phillips Center Box Office.

As we join in the cheer and warmth of this holiday season, I also want to share some news about holiday breaks in future years. The Faculty Senate last month approved a calendar, effective 2024-25, with no scheduled classes during the entire Thanksgiving week, though the campus will remain open Monday through Wednesday as it is today.

Starting in 2024-25, the calendar also starts the fall semester earlier and ends the semester earlier—lengthening the winter break—and moves Spring Break to later in the year. Syncing UF’s Spring Break with the Alachua County school system’s will benefit those with children in the local schools.

Planning an academic calendar is always a thorny challenge. I’m thankful to the provost’s office, particularly Dr. Angela Lindner, UF Registrar Steve Pritz, all the colleges and everyone on the Faculty Senate who worked hard to make these enhancements possible.

And to all — my very best as you complete your papers, projects and research; prepare for exams; and get ready for the holidays. I wish you a strong finish to the semester and I encourage you to infuse these days with joy, light and song.

The Holiday Gator will do its part for that cause through the end of the semester, at which point it will return to storage until it reappears next year. It’s quite a sight to behold, and I look forward to welcoming its return Wednesday and celebrating this season with all of you.