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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

I still have the emails from my freshman year — three of them from former alligatorSports editor Phillip Heilman.

The first, in summary: Congratulations. We want you to be a copy editor for the sports section.

The second, sent a half hour later: Sorry, we don’t have a job to offer you.

The third, about two hours after that: Did you get two emails? Weird. We want you to work for us. Show up Monday.

Almost three-and-a-half years later, it’s hard to believe this is the last article I will write for The Independent Florida Alligator.

Since my freshman year, the Alligator has been my second home. It’s where I learned how to be a journalist. It’s where I’ve made some of my closest friends, a family bonded over quality reporting, fried-chicken potlucks, Election Night pizza and late-night jam sessions. It’s where I spent sleepless nights — a lot of sleepless nights — making memories that will last a lifetime.

There was my freshman year when a group of 10 of us sat in the Avenue room and watched a bootlegged version of “Frozen” on an editor’s laptop.

There were the three years of football road trips, with stops in New Orleans (really Baton Rouge, but who honestly says that when they can say New Orleans?), Nashville and Lexington among others along the way and a new set of incredible reporters and photographers each year.

There was the time a JJ Schwarz foul ball flew into the McKethan Stadium press box and nearly killed me and the 98 mph fastball from A.J. Puk that struck me in the back after it ricocheted into the first-base photo well.

There was the time I almost wrote that a UF athlete, who shall remain nameless, was a “bad ass bitch” on the sports front (for the record, the statement was and still is true to this day in the most positive way possible). Good times.

And there were the stories I had the opportunity to tell. About the volleyball player who gave up the sport for her health. About the softball team paving its way to its first national title. About the football coach who brought the Gators back to the Southeastern Conference Championship Game in his first season (and again one year later).

But beyond the day-to-day grind and 50-plus hour work weeks, the breaking news and the features and the overly stat-heavy stories (sorry again, copy editors), there were the friendships forged that will last long after we all walk out of the building one last time.

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Those will be cherished more than any byline.

To anyone and everyone else who I’ve had the pleasure to work with over these last three-and-a-half years — and there’s a lot of you — thank you for the support, encouragement and memories.

Through the good times and the bad, we’ve all pushed each other to get better every day. And through the good times and the bad, we put out a paper every day — and a damn good one at that.

I’m grateful for the opportunity, even if it took three emails to know whether or not I actually had it.

Jordan McPherson is a sports writer, former sports editor and former editor-in-chief of the Alligator.

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