You probably know Shelly McCray and don’t even realize it. Everyone knows Shelly!

Three weeks ago, I attended Shelly’s retirement reception. She worked for 35 years at the visitor kiosk at the entry to campus at 13th Street and Second Avenue. She was UF’s greeter, and she was the first person all of us saw as we entered campus. She smiled and waved at us as we went by. She welcomed visitors and helped them navigate the difficulties of finding parking. When I saw her smile and wave in the morning, I always felt as though it was going to be a good day. 

We are all blessed on a daily basis by UF’s staff, who may not be recognized like our faculty are with international awards and honors, but who are a critical part of UF’s preeminence and an essential component of our teaching, research and service mission. They make UF who we are, and they take as much pride in the university as our alumni, students and faculty. We often don’t notice their accomplishments, but we notice when the work isn’t done. When students are discouraged, are ill or have a personal problem, it often is a member of UF’s staff who provides encouragement and help.

UF has about 30,000 full-time employees, of which about 5,000 consider themselves faculty. Half of our staff has worked at UF for 10 or more years. Many of our staff were born and raised in Gainesville, and many others commute from towns like Starke, Ocala and Cedar Key. For some, this means leaving home in the morning when it is dark and getting home late after sunset. We also have staff working at more than 100 additional UF locations in every county across the state .

In addition to her UF job, Shelly spent 25 years working at a second job so she could earn enough to support her children as a single mother. Although UF strives to pay competitive market wages, it is difficult for some of our lowest-paid staff to raise a family on what they earn. I’m proud to announce that last month, UF raised its minimum hourly wage for full-time employees from $10 per hour to $12 per hour, which cost the university approximately only $1 million more each year. However, we have more to do in this area as we obtain the necessary resources.

More than 100 people packed the University Gallery to honor Shelly McCray last month. The gallery was filled with people representing the breadth of our campus. I tweeted out a photo of the art gallery, as well as University Police Chief Linda Stump-Kurnick speaking about Shelly’s 35 years of commitment to UF. Tampa news reporter Grayson Kamm tweeted a response: “A fitting venue! Dedication like that creates a legacy that is like a work of art.”  

Like Shelly, each of our employees creates a legacy at UF. Whether they interact directly with students or work behind the scenes in offices or on facilities, their legacies are the lives of UF students and the university, both of which will endure.

A few months ago, I made a Snapchat story about one of my days as president. I included Shelly in my story, and she was overjoyed when it made the local evening news. On occasion, I would go to the cafe in Heavener Hall for coffee and a muffin and bring back a cookie for Shelly. This was my way of thanking her for being the cheerful and helpful face of UF. Shelly’s retirement reminded me I need to thank all of UF’s employees for all that they do for UF and, in particular, how they make each of our lives richer and better.

Shelly McCray was the last to speak at her retirement reception. She concluded by breaking into a song:

“I’ve had some good days

I’ve had some bad days

I’ve had some hills to climb

But my good days

Outweigh my bad days

So I won’t complain.” 

Shelly, I pray you will have a blessed retirement. Your good days and your bad days were a blessing to all of us that saw you every day. To all of UF’s staff, THANK YOU!

Kent Fuchs is the president of the University of Florida. His column appears monthly.