UF Student Government is trying to establish a new UF tradition: a college prom night.
SG and Gator Nights partnered to host the inaugural Gator Gala Friday evening at the Reitz Union. The free event was open to all UF students from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom with live music, poker tables and raffles for free items, including a UF basketball jersey worth $109.99.
A public records request filed with UF’s Public Records Request Center on Jan. 25 and Jan. 28 for the event’s cost were not returned in time for publication.
Filling up with about 400 students by 9 p.m., students danced with friends on an LED floor as pop music curated by the event’s DJ blasted through the ballroom speakers. Some wore sequined gowns and suits while others opted for sweatpants and T-shirts. Less than half of the students wore masks.
UF’s Classic Fare Catering supplied a buffet of spinach dip, cookies and pretzel bites.
Deepak Kashyap, a 25-year-old UF master’s student, found out about the event through friends who had seen Instagram posts about the Gator Gala. The poker and blackjack tables with free betting chips were the most appealing activity, but the food could have been better, he said.
“I think it's like adult fun time,” Kashyap said. “I think there was a little more hype surrounding this event since there was [a] casino and stuff.”
Gator Nights and SG contracted with Everything But the Mime, Inc. for the poker tables, 3-D photo booth and other attractions in the ballroom, said Drew Baker, the UF assistant director of campus traditions.
One floor up, the Rion Ballroom hosted a Gator Gala exclusively for juniors from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.
The juniors’ hour was meant to unify the class, celebrate accomplishments and empower students for senior year — especially after the pandemic, Junior Class President Blake Robinson said.
Bringing students together was a main motivation behind SG’s Class Councils’ choice to host the gala in general, said Senior Class President Jacob Van De Car.
“The best way to describe it is like college prom,” he said. “Our mission is to increase class identity and also boost alumni participation rate.”
The gala represented a redemption for some students who missed their high school prom due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some students like Rebecca Herschberg, a 20-year-old UF second-year criminology major, said her high school didn’t offer an event like this.
“High school didn’t have prom,” she said. “It’s just something random and different to do for a Friday night.”
The Gator Gala has been in the works since the middle of the Fall semester, as the project required Class Council members Van De Car and Robinson to work alongside each other to organize the gala, which included securing a venue, food and marketing.
“In 30 years, I want Gator Gala to still be a thing,” Van De Car said. “It's really cool to have the opportunity to start something like this and put that in motion.”
Contact Maia Botek firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact her on Twitter @BotekMaia
Maia Botek is a third-year journalism major and Spanish minor covering student government this semester. Maia is from South Florida and enjoys the beach, spending time with her friends and learning about the environment in her free time.