Everything happens for a reason.
A phrase I try to tell myself to reassure my brain when I start overthinking about all the things I could have done differently or regrets I have.
After my first semester at the Alligator, I just thought about how I should’ve joined sooner. Admittedly, I tried. Two rejection emails led me to take a break from trying to get in for a while and work on my ability as a journalist.
But when I finally got my chance at this paper, I instantly made some of my best friends. And as that first semester came to a close, I couldn’t help but wish I had met these people so much sooner.
But everything happens for a reason.
If I hadn’t joined in the Summer of 2022, who knows if I would have met Kyle Bumpers — my best friend, who I started with the same semester.
If we hadn’t started together, who knows if we’d work together as sports editor and assistant sports editor and shared hours going insane editing seven events a day. I don’t know if there’s another person I’d rather share a hard cider with.
What if I didn’t push myself out of my comfort zone to go to Ryan Haley’s birthday party — someone who I hardly knew at the time, but now consider one of my closest friends who I can talk all things SEC football or the deep things going on in our lives.
Fast forward five semesters later, and I can’t help but think about how proud younger me would be of me. I started my journey at UF as an architecture major but had no interest in it. I switched to journalism but spent the first two years in college unsure that it was really meant for me.
But as I enter my last semester here and finish my Alligator career, I’ve never felt more sure that I made the right decision.
I’ve been able to travel all over the country with my best friends, covering the Florida Gators, a team I grew up following every day of my life.
If you had told me in high school that I’d be able to go to places like Nashville and Salt Lake City or get to go to historical venues like Death Valley at LSU, I’d say you were crazy. If you added that I’d get to do it with my best friends, who I’d make memories that would stick with me for the rest of my life, I would say don’t get my hopes up for something that could never happen.
But it all happened. Hours spent in a car driving to Pensacola at 4 a.m., getting locked out of an Airbnb in sub-30 degree weather and showing my friends the world’s greatest gift that is Whataburger were all a part of a five-semester journey that I wouldn’t change a thing about.
It was a dream to cover the Florida Gators as a student. The surrealness of it quickly wore off, as the day-to-day tasks of the job kicked in soon, but the fact I got to write about sports as my day job never got old.
College football and basketball were everything to me growing up, and being in the middle of it at one of the biggest programs in the country is something I didn’t want to take for granted.
Getting to do it alongside my assistant sports editor, Topher Adams, made it that much more special. Topher was my right-hand man and the man I want to thank for talking hours of college football with this Fall.
This paper is a special place, and I can’t wait to see where it and the sports desk goes. The people here are some of the best people I’ve met.
If I hadn’t joined when I did, I wouldn’t have met Joseph Henry, my first sports editor, who helped push me to become a better reporter and also one of my best friends. I wouldn’t have had Julia Coin as my first Editor-in-Chief, who worked with me to cover different kinds of stories and became a close friend.
I wouldn’t have met Minca Davis, who designs some of the best art I’ve ever seen and has become one of my best friends.
I wouldn't have met Claire Grunewald, who was willing to make my college football pick’em graphics every week. She was real for that.
There are too many people to thank and talk about during my five semesters here, but there are so many people and friendships I am forever grateful for and thankful for.
Everything happens for a reason, and I know whatever happens next in my life and the lives of the incredible people at this paper, it’s going to be special and I can’t wait to watch it unfold.
Jackson Reyes was the Fall 2023 sports editor and the Summer 2023 Digital Managing Editor at The Independent Florida Alligator.
Jackson Reyes is a UF journalism senior and The Alligator's Fall 2023 Sports Editor. He previously served as Digital Managing Editor and was a reporter and assistant editor on the sports desk. In his free time, he enjoys collecting records, long walks on the beach and watching Bo Nix.