When I was growing up, everyone always told me that I would find my people during college. Being told that you will meet your lifelong friends in those four years can be both exciting and daunting, because it both gives hope and builds up expectations. Coming to college, I knew that I wanted to find community rooted in authenticity, compassion, and empathy. I longed to find friends that knew and accepted every side of me. Friends who would walk through the highs, lows, the pretty, the messy, the trials and the victories seemed like a distant wish for me after four years of high school where I didn’t experience community that made me feel included… So, a major factor when choosing a college was the campus culture, particularly surrounding the aspects of community.

I went on tour after tour with ears opened and a hopeful heart, eager to hear of the ways that the people had shaped that campus to feel like a safe haven. I always tell people the story of why I chose UF when closing a tour, and as cliche as it sounds, my response is always, “Because of the people.” My memory of being on my UF tour is one of the most vivid memories I have to this day. It was an unexplainable sensation, but I knew when walking through the campus that this was meant to be my place for the next four years. I attribute this feeling to the way my tour guide passionately painted the picture of his college experience and how it was deeply interconnected to the great community he had found in The Gator Nation. I didn’t have what he had, and I wanted it, so I chose UF. It was the best decision I ever made.

We are creatures that long to be in community. Being surrounded by community makes an individual feel understood, cared for and heard. It creates a rootedness inside of us that can bring people to life. The beauty of UF is there are so many avenues to scout out where your soul comes alive. Whether you decide to rush a sorority or fraternity, join a club, play intramural sports or get involved in research, there is a never-ending list of places for each Gator to find their people. For me, this happened through Cicerones and Young Life. It has been through these two communities that I have found during my time as a student that I have experienced life to the fullest.

During my time being involved in Young Life I have been able to meet people from all across the country. I have served at camps in different states, bonded with other college students while we volunteered together, and grown in my understanding of how to be a good friend. My time as a Cicerone has shown me the value of intentionality in every action you make through the connections, I have made at general body meetings and other events. The bonding that occurs when you give a tour with a fellow Cicerone has been priceless for my college experience. These communities mean a lot to me, not because I found my value in them, but because I was welcomed and ushered into pockets where space was held for me to show up authentically. I was introduced to individuals that cheered me on and helped me discover what makes me who I am. They have tracked through the mud with me, and also celebrated mountain-top moments.

A quote by Brene Brown sums up how important I believe community is:, “Connection is why we’re here. We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering.” Mentorship, community and friendship fill our lives with meaning, joy and belonging. My hope for every Gator is that they find their place of belonging so that they may experience life to the fullest, knowing that they are loved, they matter and they belong. At the end of the day, those will be some of the most valuable pieces we will each walk away with after we leave the place so many of us call home.

Please note, photos taken prior to COVID-19