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Monday, September 25, 2023

New and old faces trailed into the Stephen C. O'Connell Center on Thursday night to get a taste of The Gator Nation for Gatorfest.

Gatorfest, a part of the Division of Student Affairs' Weeks of Welcome program, introduced new students to involvement opportunities, events and Gator traditions.

About 2,000 students attended the event.

The pep rally featured performances by the "Pride of the Sunshine" Fightin' Gator marching band, The Dazzlers dance team and UF cheerleaders.

Several UF administrators, Student Government officials and UF coaches made appearances and brief speeches.

Student Body Vice President Vanessa Goodwin and Student Body Treasurer EJ Walicki called the incoming class of 2011 the most academically competitive class to enter UF.

Afterward, President Bernie Machen offered advice to students to get all they can in the classroom and remember "the best is yet to come."

Corey Smith, a singer-songwriter ranked as the No.1 country artist on, gave a free performance after the speeches.

Gatorfest is the first official welcoming event for students, said Shane Wibeto, assistant director of new student programs.

"It's a start to kind of feeling like The Gator Nation," he said.

Students quickly nabbed free T-shirts and hand towels as they swamped the entrance.

By about 7 p.m., more than 1,000 freebies had been handed out.

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Students also were given a gift package of a key chain and tassel that was to remain unopened until the end of the rally.

Wibeto said the key chain symbolized a welcome to UF, and the tassel represented the final goal of graduation.

The event drew new students adjusting to student life and eager to be more involved in Gators traditions.

Michael Renneker, a UF freshman, said he is adapting well to life at UF.

Renneker said the first day of classes reminded him of Walt Disney World.

Erica Rands, another UF freshman, said she came to the pep rally because she was excited to see the marching band.

She said she missed it at the first football game of the season last Saturday.

Rands said her first few weeks at UF have been a big adjustment, but she is looking forward to joining "The Gator Nation family."

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