I live for butterflies – not the beautiful, multicolored, delicate-winged creatures, but the fluttering within our souls as we stand on the edge of the unknown and prepare to stretch ourselves into something uniquely different than we previously were. As an out-of-state student whose world revolved around a small, private high school for 14 years, my decision to apply to the University of Florida was certainly a leap of faith. Feelings of excitement mixed with trepidation as I imagined what my life might be like attending school with over 50,000 Gators, a vast contrast from what I had been accustomed to my whole life. With the time and benefit of reflection, I have come to realize that my ability to capitalize on those initial butterflies landed me at the place I can now confidently and proudly call home.

The value placed on my voice and contributions played an important role in selecting the schools to which schools I would apply. From my own research, and from speaking with members of the community, I felt confident that UF would provide an academically stimulating environment, as well as one that would challenge my leadership and interpersonal skills and allow me to grow. I knew that because UF was such a large school, I would have a breadth of networks and resources at my fingertips and a family of students and faculty that I could always lean on for support and guidance. I also felt that I would develop a unique sense of confidence, independence and initiative to seek out opportunities for myself. While these were all attributes that I valued in high school, UF presented the exciting challenge of establishing myself as more than just a small fish in a large pond.

There is no doubt that the months of praying for a large envelope to arrive in the mail required an unprecedented sense of patience and trust, and with time, it became harder to find comfort in the common saying, “everything happens for a reason.” To alleviate any nerves, I decided to channel my energy into the celebration of senior year and make as many memories as I could with my 14-year family before it was time to say goodbye. It was the moments of spontaneity that brought the most joy during this daunting time, even if it involved choreographing and teaching a dance for six girls two days before our last performance on the stage. Celebrating the “lasts” made me realize just how excited I was to make even more memories at my new home.

While the journey to get to UF was nowhere near a yellow-brick road, I now know that the twists and turns were worth it and that life truly does work out the way it is supposed to. The past two years at UF have brought the kindest and most supportive friends and mentors into my life. There is not a day that goes by without feeling overwhelming pride in my community; I marvel at just how great it is to be a Florida Gator. My decision to apply and commit to UF showed me that many of the best moments in life come from taking leaps of faith, and that a life worth living is one in pursuit of these butterflies. So the butterflies are what I will continue to chase. Today, tomorrow, and always.