Lauren Azurin was shocked when a young woman with a famous buzzcut handed him a black T-shirt.
The 18-year-old UF history and anthropology freshman squealed to passing students on Turlington Plaza as he clutched a T-shirt to his chest that Emma González, a March for Our Lives leader, gave to him.
Besides receiving a free T-shirt, Azurin said he was thrilled to meet González, who is his inspiration.
“Just to see her right there is living proof that you can do anything as a child,” he said.
More than 150 people came to the Gainesville stop of the Vote for Our Lives Hangout for an hour Monday night, said Adler Garfield, the president of March for Our Lives Gainesville. Students chatted with members of the national team, including González, David Hogg and Delaney Tarr while pledging to vote and grabbing free merchandise and donuts.
On Feb. 14, 17 students and staff members were killed in a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Students like González, Hogg and Tarr created a national movement called Never Again MSD to advocate for gun control.
“We know the issues specifically for Florida and as it’s our home, we want to make sure we’re in a good place to live,” González, 18, told the Alligator. .
This was the thirteenth stop in a series of visits across the country to galvanize students to vote in the midterm elections on Tuesday.
After traveling to diverse cities such as Minneapolis, Dallas and Greensboro, Hogg said he hopes the midterms will affect change for gun control. He said the thousands of students he has talked to are taking politics more seriously.
“We’re going to win,” he said. “I guarantee it.”
While the event aimed to encourage students to vote, Delaney Tarr, a national March for Our Lives leader, said the event was also like a class reunion.
“It’s so encouraging to see that even though we’re so spread out that we’re still united in our cause,” Tarr, 18, said.
Hogg said he was excited to see his friends but was happier to know they all had voted.
González passed out T-shirts and posed for pictures with a line of students. Most importantly, she got to hang out with her friends who also go to UF, she said.
When she’s not traveling with the March For Our Lives team, González is in her first year of classes at New College of Florida in Sarasota. She said she’s doing well in her classes but the social transition has been difficult.
“You can’t bond at the base soul level when you first meet somebody at school like I did with these people,” González said. “I’m working on it. Nobody else is ready to share traumatic experiences with each other.”
After the midterms, Hogg said he plans to focus on legislation for universal background checks and funding for gun violence research.
Hogg and his classmates have amassed thousands of followers over the past eight months, but he said he remains unfazed by the sudden rise to fame.
“On Feb. 14 we didn’t all of a sudden gain all this power,” he said. “We became those people that we wanted to see. We became the change how we wanted to see.”