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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

17,000 reasons why we should have had a graduation ceremony

opinions graphic generic
opinions graphic generic

As a first-generation college student, I dreamt about graduation day and walking out to my family afterwards to bask in the joy of my accomplishments. I never dreamt about going to football games, basketball games or anything of the like. My academics meant more to me than anything else at UF, given they were the main reason why I was there. 

Graduating Cum Laude from UF with a Bachelor of Arts in political science and a minor in history was supposed to be the proudest moment of my life, thus far. Now, I wonder if I, or the entire Class of 2020, will ever get a graduation from UF. Nonetheless, we will never have to guess if we will have a Gators Football season this Fall. 

It was difficult to digest that UF decided to continue with the season and have 17,000 people in the stadium at once, but still not announce when or even if we will get to walk across the stage at graduation. Universities around the nation have closed down due to outbreaks of COVID-19 on their campuses, so let’s be honest: Students at UF will not be complacent and follow the mask ordinances in place at the stadium during a blazing hot football game. Students barely follow social distancing ordinances.

The heartbreak of losing my senior semester was grand, but losing my graduation is something that I do not think that I will ever recover from. I, as well as other first-generation graduates, have struggled emotionally to accept the fact that our families will never be able to see us walk across the stage to get our degrees. We do not have the privilege of being a family with generations of Gators that will have other means of celebration. We have dealt with a pandemic, losing our senior year, losing our graduation and now trying to navigate through the adult world in the last six months.

Students of color, Hispanic, Asian and Black or African American, make up only roughly 30% of the student population, according to UF enrollment data. Speaking on the behalf of Hispanic and Latinx students, we are already deeply underrepresented on campus. Our safe space, La Casita, had to be fought for while UF’s administration tried to erase it. UF administration has spoken on how it supports all students because “every Gator counts,” but it has slowly revealed that that is not true. UF cares more about its athletic department than anything else, so you know what that means? UF is a business before it is a university. Education has never come first and students, like myself, are at the bottom of the barrel. I get it — athletics bring in money, but is it more important to bring back football season than to make sure an entire class gets a proper graduation? The short answer is yes — money will always mean more than the happiness of students.

I contributed countless hours of involvement and community service to UF to leave a legacy for other first-generation students. The only thing that I wanted UF to give me was a graduation — a chance to walk across the stage, hear my name and hear my family scream with joy. For other first-generation students who come from different states, countries and socio-economic backgrounds, what does this mean for them? How do they get to celebrate their accomplishments? The hardest thing to accept from all of this is that football matters more than students actually do.

So here’s to the last few years of my life, UF. Thank you for all of the lessons and disappointments. It’s not great to be a Florida Gator. 

Alana Rush is a UF alumna.

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