On Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2019, I sat in the Reitz Union eating Panda Express.
I had my usual order of orange chicken and white rice. I was there with two friends. It was the second day of my second semester at UF. I was an architecture major.
That fateful Tuesday, as it turns out, my two friends had a class together. Jokingly, I went on my computer and saw there was a single seat still available in the course. I had nothing to do, so I picked it up and tagged along. It was drop-add week, so what difference did it make anyway.
In retrospect, I underestimated the significance a one-hour class could have on the rest of your life.
Introduction to Media and Sports showed me there might be something at UF I’d love to do after all. It took months of wandering about campus, but I finally felt like I might have a sense of direction.
Two days later, I waited almost seven hours in the J-School advising office to change my major. It was crazy and impulsive — a pair of things I never have and never will be known for.
Now, nearly three years later, I’m staring at my computer writing my farewell to The Alligator. My leap of faith got me this far, and I don’t think I could ever find the proper words to express how glad I am that I took the jump.
From the moment I heard goodbye columns were an Alligator tradition, I knew if I ever wrote one I’d start it with that story. I never gave much thought to the words that would need to follow, but five hectic semesters filled in the gaps for me whether I liked it or not.
My time as a writer showed me I could do this. From churning out an obscene number of golf recaps and covering the volleyball team, I learned the ropes. I enjoyed what I was doing, but I didn’t truly love it until my first men’s basketball game.
Florida ended a seven-season losing skid to Florida State while I sat in the media corner of the Stephen C. O’Connell Center for the first time. My recap of that game went in the paper. That clip still hangs on my wall today — I guess I’m sentimental. It’s kind of hard to explain, and it sounds cheesy, but there’s just an undeniable high to covering a good game.
Eventually, as I became an editor, those fond memories became more scarce.
I struggled to manage my time. I couldn’t find the joy as easily. Work started to feel like, well, work.
After a grueling 16-week Spring, I felt like I needed a break. Yet, when opportunity came calling, I reluctantly responded. It was in my penultimate semester I fell in love with The Alligator again.
To the people who made Summer so special — you know who you are. Thank you for creating a culture where spending hours at the office almost never felt like a task. That semester wasn’t without its stresses, but they all led to growth.
As I turned toward my final run, the one now drawing to a close, I wanted to leave an impact on the desk where I got my start. My time as sports editor, in all honesty, didn’t go as I envisioned.
I consistently felt overwhelmed. I had plans that never came to fruition. From the midpoint on, I struggled to tread water. Burn out became my biggest adversary. Yet, I survived.
Writing this is cathartic. It feels like a solidified ending to an era of my life that will probably impact me just as much when it’s over as it did when I was living through it.
If only that 19-year-old idiot, who spent hours on end gluing together sticks and drawing cubes, could see where we are now.
Joseph Henry was sports editor at The Independent Florida Alligator.
Joseph Henry is a fourth-year sports journalism major and is the Alligator's sports editor. He previously worked as senior news director, assistant sports editor, men's basketball beat reporter, volleyball beat reporter and golf beat reporter. He enjoys sitting down to watch a movie as often as possible, collecting vinyl and drinking Dr. Pepper.