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Wednesday, May 29, 2024
Student Body President Ashton Charles poses for a photo in her office in the Reitz Union on Monday afternoon.
Student Body President Ashton Charles poses for a photo in her office in the Reitz Union on Monday afternoon.

Ashton Charles sat front row in 2008 for the “Don’t Tase Me Bro” incident.

She has a hot dog named after her at Gator Dawgs.

And she’s a vegan who used to eat a cheeseburger every time she’d go out with friends.

But you probably know her as your Student Body president.

After a year serving the highest student office, her term is complete on Wednesday. On April 29, she’ll have earned a master’s degree in management. In August, she’ll be working in the U.S. Embassy in Madrid.

But even though all the paperwork is signed and complete, she knows her time in Gainesville never will be.

These days, Charles’ office on the third floor of the Reitz Union is quiet. A birthday balloon, which has floated around since January, droops closer to the floor as the helium leaves its once robust frame. Copies of the newspaper sit in high stacks on a back desk, waiting to be revisited and then clipped for a scrapbook.

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All Charles ever wanted for Christmas was to go to the Vatican with her family for the holiday season.

But during the fall of 2006, when she was a freshman, she got a phone call from her mother. Charles was given a choice: Go to the Vatican for Christmas, or head to the BCS National Championship game in Glendale, Ariz. 

The lifelong, Sunday Mass-attending Catholic didn’t have to think twice.

To this day, jumping on the seats of the University of Arizona Stadium with her sister, Summer, after the Gators won the National Championship against Ohio State University was the one of the best moments of her life.

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Originally, though, she wasn’t going to be a Gator. Summer went to UF and Charles wanted to go somewhere else. But it was UF that accepted her first. Every other college acceptance after, she said, was anti-climactic.

Now her office is covered in Gator paraphernalia, including heirloom lamps and Gator picture frames.

But orange and blue aren’t the only colors in the office. Navy, blue and gray are incorporated to represent her Student Government party, the Unite Party.

Her rise in SG was no surprise to those who know her. Her sister said her family teases her about the possibility of her becoming the first woman president of the U.S.

She said Charles is very competitive but is the kindest person she knows. It’s the competitive nature that pushes her to meet goals and win elections.

Throughout high school, she played seven varsity sports and competitive soccer on the side. Her flag football team was undefeated her senior year. 

She doesn’t take losing lightly, though losing isn’t something that happens often.

Charles progressed quickly from student senator to senate president, and then on to becoming the fourth elected female Student Body President at UF, and the fifth overall since the creation of SG in 1909 and the admission of women to the university in 1948.

Charles is also one of the few Student Body Presidents to completely finish her party’s platform.

The Unite Party’s platform included expanding bus routes, putting hand sanitizers across campus and installing Redboxes so students could rent DVDs.

But the president’s job wasn’t done.

“It’s not just a platform; it’s about representing the students at all times and being prepared for other things that do come up and that you do encounter unexpectedly,” she said.

The unexpected was block tuition.

She remembered her predecessor, Jordan Johnson, sarcastically wishing her good luck when there was a proposed 15 percent increase in tuition two days before she took office last summer.

Johnson said he was cleaning out his office when he got the email about the increase. Charles had walked in after class, and Johnson laughed because the transition was complete and it was her turn to take on the role of president.

“Finally, Ashton was going to understand what her life was going to be,” he said.

She didn’t know it then, but it would be a good test run for August, when block tuition was officially brought to the table.

Block tuition would charge a flat-rate tuition fee for 15 credit hours, no matter if students take 12 or 18 hours.

Charles couldn’t believe it. Night after night she researched other university models, because she knew it was the only way she could fight back effectively.

As the only student on the Board of Trustees, she was the sole student voice to speak for the Student Body.

Whether it was all the research and hours Charles put into her argument, the student protests or a mix of the two, block tuition was postponed.

And now that it has been stalled for a year, she can do more things she enjoys, like going to concerts with Student Body Vice President Marcus Dixon, where she prides herself on knowing more rap lyrics than he does.

“The more inappropriate a rap song is, the more I love it,” she said.

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From Russia to Spain and vacationing in Costa Rica, she has traveled both as a diplomat and just another high school student with her Spanish class.

To say the least, Charles has been around.

Now she’s taking her experience from UF, her fluency in Spanish and her love of the world on a one-way ticket to Austria. From there it’s a train ride to Madrid for a year of work at the U.S. embassy.

Though Spanish is not her native language, she knew she could speak pretty well when she went to Spain in high school, and she was the designated speaker for the trip.

“I figure with Spanish and Chinese I can talk to one-third of the world,” she said.

Before she ventures to Spain, she’s going home to Kentucky to spend time with family, heading to West Virginia to spend some time with her father and taking a family vacation back to Costa Rica. 

During that time she has to sell her car, teach her grandparents how to use Skype and get used to the idea that she’s not coming back to The Swamp in August.

But eventually, she will be back. She wants a family of her own at some point and UF has given her more than she can ever repay.

So she’ll come back, excited for the future like she was when she started freshman year.

“I love this state too much to be gone for too long,” Charles said. “I’m Kentucky by birth, Gator by the grace of God.”

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