I recently received an email from a student graduating in December.
“Dear President Fuchs, If your schedule allows, I would like for the opportunity to update you and explain how the University of Florida has had such a tremendous positive impact on my life. Without getting into too much detail, there was a point in my ‘colorful’ past (for lack of a better phrase) where I was truly hopeless mentally, physically and spiritually. … Bottom line, I am eternally grateful for the University of Florida … for providing me with the opportunity to transform into the scholar, leader, and well-rounded person that I am today.
In the same way that all of us Gators were challenged [by you to have] unreasonable expectations during this unusual semester, I feel that the University of Florida has provided me with the chance to be unreasonably hopeful in light of my unusual past.
Thank you for this exceptional university that has given me my life back. I look forward to the possibility of hearing back from you. Go Gators!”
We met last week. And, with the student’s permission, I briefly share his story as an encouragement as we face the remaining weeks of a difficult semester.
The student’s “colorful past” is one of addiction to opioids. He was a student at a prestigious university in another state, but due to addiction and its impact on his grades, he had to leave the university. He was homeless, living on food stamps and using heroin.
A recovery center and living in a halfway house for two years in South Florida brought him the sobriety he needed to get a job. His boss, a UF graduate, encouraged him to try again to pursue a college degree. He took courses at a state college and then successfully applied to UF. In his bedroom today hangs his UF acceptance flyer, which reads “IT’S OFFICIAL. I’M NOW A GATOR” and “Your potential is Greater as a Gator.” Arriving at UF with “a few trash bags full of clothes and the hope for a better future,” his goal for his first semester was to pass all his courses with a grade of C or better.
He did better. Last year, he received his UF bachelor’s degree with a 4.0 GPA, and next month he is receiving his master’s degree with an expected 4.0 GPA.
We first met last year at a university awards ceremony where this student received an award. I was so encouraged to meet him again last week and to hear that he is still doing well. As he said, “UF didn’t cure my opioid addiction, but UF gave me back my life and my smile.”
I have never had a perfect 4.0 GPA, and I have never been addicted to opioids. However, this fellow Gator is such an inspiration to me. As we all face the disappointments and threats caused by COVID-19, combined with the pressure of a rapidly approaching end to the Fall, please know that the seemingly insurmountable difficulties we are facing do have an end and that each of us should be encouraged by the hope before us. I pray we all have strength, stamina and a strong finish to the semester.
Finally, to any student struggling with addiction, please know there is help available through the UF Counseling and Wellness Center’s Alcohol & Other Drug Services programs.
I wish you a restful and well-earned break over the holidays. Go Gators!
Kent Fuchs is the president of UF. You can find his monthly column in The Alligator.