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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Editorial: A living legend came to UF, but where were the students?

Last Friday, civil rights activist and living legend Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) spoke at the University Auditorium to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the landmark Voting Rights Act in 1965, as well as raise awareness about its uncertain future. The act, which was passed by President Lyndon B. Johnson following several unprovoked attacks and deaths of civil rights activists, abolished literacy tests and similar tactics aimed at keeping black Americans from voting. The act’s very existence can be traced to the efforts of Lewis and his colleagues, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and A. Philip Randolph; to have Lewis in UF’s halls is to have a giant in our midst.

However, if one were to assess Rep. Lewis’ historical and political importance based on the attendance of the event, one might be led to think otherwise. As far as we could see, a line to get tickets to the event was nonexistent. Additionally, although the auditorium was at near-capacity (albeit with an entirely empty balcony), one needs to take into consideration that these numbers were bolstered by professors who made attendance mandatory as well as students who attended in order to fulfill requirements for "What is the Good Life." Lewis is a man who not only bore witness to history, but also in his own words, worked alongside the spirit of history itself in order to affect meaningful change. He is an exemplary model not only for those who would seek to be activists, but for anyone who yearns to live a meaningful, memorable life.

Ostensibly, UF is a school filled to the brim with young, driven individuals who are going to change the world with the skills and knowledge they gained from their time in Gainesville. So we ask: Why wasn’t Rep. Lewis’ event packed wall to wall with attentive ears and eager hearts?

Really, there is no excuse. The most logical excuse — that a considerable population of students made their way to Baton Rouge for the LSU football game — is not only a poor one but speaks to a larger problem of intellectual apathy among UF’s student populace. Getting turnt and indulging in the communal football spirit is wonderful. We know it, you know it and thousands of UF alumni know it.

But look at where we go to school! We’re one of the top public universities in the nation, and we have the honor of claiming hundreds of alumni who left their mark not only on the university, but also on the world. Hearing an individual of Lewis’ stature is coming to speak at UF ought to inspire far more excitement and awe than the prospect of a drunken weekend in New Orleans.

Sometimes, we forget just how lucky we are to go here and how many wonderful opportunities are afforded to us.

Once we graduate, there are strong odds we’re not going to be able to see living legends speak for free, nor will they be within walking distance of our homes. Next time your college sends you an email about an upcoming speaker, don’t bother debating between them and "Beat the Clock" at Grog House Bar and Grill — your brain and wallet will thank you later.

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