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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

After graduation, alumni return to changes at UF

With a student population of 30,000 and a football team that once went 0-10-1 during her enrollment, UF alumna Sharon Taylor never thought her alma mater would come this far.

Now, with the student body swollen to 50,000, the football team is the defending national champion, and the town bleeds orange and blue seven days a week.

"Football was nothing like it is now," said Taylor, who completed her undergraduate degree in 1979.

"We never wore orange and blue to the games."

With the kickoff of Gator Growl 2007, Taylor reminisced about how the city and university have changed since she attended UF.

"It was a lot of fun," said Taylor, who completed her law degree at UF in 1982. "There was usually a big-name comedian, lots of skits, we'd cheer on the football team and there were fireworks at the end."

Taylor said she got to see headliners like Bill Cosby, Bob Hope and Robin Williams at Gator Growl.

Gator Growl has remained mostly unchanged over the years, Taylor said.

It still features up-and-coming comedians, spotlights the football team and ends with fireworks, but the live skits have been replaced by videos.

After Growl ended, Taylor said she would usually attend a fraternity party with her now-husband Mark Taylor, also a UF alumnus.

When she was in college, the legal drinking age was only 18, she said.

"So you can imagine what that was like," she laughed.

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There were often dances after Growl, which she said she loved to attend.

Her favorite bar was a disco place downtown called Nichol's Alley, which had a lighted dance floor.

After she and her husband graduated - they married in 1981 - they continued to come back to Gainesville for Homecoming.

"We came up a few times after we graduated, but after we had kids, we stopped coming up," she said. "But we've always been season football and basketball ticket holders."

Over the years, she's watched the city grow. She said the traffic congestion is much worse, and there are a lot more apartment complexes and restaurants, especially on Archer Road.

She's also watched the campus grow. While only a few new buildings have been added to the main campus, she said the entire southwest area of the campus is new.

"I used to live in married housing down there," she said. "The gym did not exist."

But she's especially watched the pride in the university grow.

"It's been so much fun to watch these teams do so well," she said. "We've loved it."

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