I joined The Independent Florida Alligator before I even moved to Gainesville. I didn’t know what life would look like for the next four years, but I knew that I wanted this paper to be a part of it.
While I half-listened to countless Zoom meetings from my notoriously moldy freshman dorm, I listened to upperclassmen's anecdotes about what being in an in-person newsroom felt like and how journalistic passion and college-aged antics merged. As a Fall 2020 freshman — ahem, a COVID-19 freshman — The Alligator office just felt like a mythical place.
I often say I joined the newsroom through the backdoor, never covering breaking news or exposing the results of impressive investigations. I just wrote what I knew: the communities that I grew up in and the topics they care about.
El Caimán raised me as a reporter. Before any intro class taught me anything, I learned how to write a story by translating those of my peers. Covering Hispanic communities and working at our Spanish desk taught me what it’s like to use what your life experience as a strength.
Caimán, often an afterthought rather than an established section, is the reason I stuck with this whole journalism thing. I owe it a lot.
It helped me gain the confidence to dare to write what I didn’t know. After Caimán introduced me to Gainesville, the Avenue threw me into the depths of local culture headfirst, showing me the quirkiest, strangest and coolest things the city hides.
More importantly than what I covered, however, The Avenue gave me a found family of like-minded culture fiends who also got their hearts broken every time a well-thought-out adjective got edited out of a profile and who also had way too much to say about Taylor Swift.
I have a lot of things to be grateful for, and the friends I made at that desk are usually high on my list. I hope they know that.
I found my place in these corners of the newsroom and somehow stuck around for long enough for them to trust me to take on a managing editor position. So now I’m here, six semesters later, saying goodbye and still pretending to hate this place.
I’d be surprised if staff members two semesters from now even hear my name. I didn’t particularly focus on building any form of legacy but on creating an experience for myself that would make all the work worth it.
A place on a masthead, an impressive byline: those things go and get forgotten. What really counts, I think, is the people and the memories they have with you.
The editors who shape you as a reporter, the life-long friendships that spark from office small talk, the memories in and outside the newsroom that we get to share with each other, the complicated network of interpersonal relationships that brews if you stay for long enough, the sense of community — those will remember you.
I learned somewhere along the way that, like much of Gainesville, The Alligator is a transitional space: constantly following the cyclical motions of fresh-faced students joining, staying for a while, learning some stuff, and then leaving.
Some try to hold on to the paper for longer than it holds on to them, but I’m more excited to look back on it.
There’s some beauty in being part of something bigger than yourself. There’s comfort and humility in knowing that no matter what, the paper will keep going for years after you’re gone like it has for the past century.
And yet, after three years, two desks, a pandemic and many valued friendships, this summer was the first time I understood what pre-COVID staff meant when they talked about being at the office.
To be contrived by space and time, trapped in a room with a dozen other people collectively stressing to meet a midnight deadline and to still have the energy and vibrancy to remind you of the passion that brought you here in the first place, I think that’s what they meant.
I will never forget how it felt sitting at an overcrowded table of editors and reporters filling every seat they could, bouncing ideas off each other about how to make a sentence sound better or what synonyms to use.
If I took nothing else from the past three years, I’d be content just experiencing the loud eruptions of laughter and the endless layers of overlapping conversation and banter that filled our dusty office room with more noise than the walls were intended to support.
All that thoughtful chaos and even the inevitable exhaustion I felt by the time our deadline neared (which I tried to hide behind dark sunglasses every Sunday midnight) made it worth it.
I’ve never felt prouder to be a part of something than I felt this summer.
Whether it was our special editions highlighting AAPI and Pride month and celebrating Juneteenth and demystifying hundreds of Florida laws, or even something as simple as a picture of two ladies dressed in pink for the Barbie premiere going on our front page, all my favorite papers came from the last few months. A lot of my favorite memories did too.
I could’ve told you what it meant to work at The Alligator at any point in the past three years, but I don’t think I would’ve gotten it right.
Kristine Villarroel was the Summer 2023 Engagement Managing Editor of The Independent Florida Alligator.
Kristine Villarroel is a UF journalism senior and The Alligator's Summer 2023 Engagement Managing Editor. She previously worked in the Avenue and Caimán desks as an editor and reporter. In her free time, she looks for dusty fur coats at antique shops and pretends not to be a hater on Twitter.