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Connecting our Gator Families

The Gator Parent and Family Association’s blog serves as a platform to give UF family members, faculty, staff, and students the opportunity to share their stories and experiences. Through these stories, we hope to foster connection with fellow members of the UF community by providing insight into the journeys of our students and offering encouragement to fellow family members.

Most Recent Blog Posts

As I was growing up, I always thought of a myself as a patient person. Waiting for things to happen naturally rather than pushing for something that could not happen anyhow worked well for me. Fast forward to April 21, 2020. I have a 19-year-old Gator sitting across from me. He is eating his dressing drenched salad as he talks louder than the “Stay @ Home Movies” Batman special on our television. It might help if he would remove his headphones; but then, if he did THAT, I would hear the conversation that he is having with his “bro” about those of the feminine persuasion. My husband had a countdown timer on his phone for when our son would return from University of Florida; it was SUPPOSED to be April 29. We figured, he’d get a job, work for two months and then return to UF for Summer B.

However, due to Coronavirus, our little 6’4” angel showed up around 12:00 a.m. on March 14, wondering where all the food was. This situation has been a real test of my patience. A young man who has been living on his own, away from his family’s influence for a total of seven months, has a tough time reverting back to living under Mom and Dad’s roof. I find myself sending a “friendly” text to him at 1:30 a.m. when I have been awakened by the sounds of his keyboard playing in the bedroom directly above us. I ask each of the children, “What do you need from the store?” on Friday night before heading to my one big drive out of the house every two weeks. As I’m preparing to check out of Publix, the most expensive of the three places I shop, it never fails that I get texts like, “Hey mom, please get 20 of the fruit on the bottom yogurts!” Or “We’re out of ice cream; can you get more?” (Probably because he eats half a container in one sitting). “Oh, and I need frozen fruit for smoothies – like strawberries, mangoes and pineapple, and more Greek yogurt, too.” Honestly, it was cheaper having him live ON campus than at home.

Nonetheless, my husband and I are doing our very best to support our son. I realized last week that this has been extremely tough for him. He is an incredibly social extrovert who can spend hours playing basketball with his friends, loves hanging out at the beach and enjoys having buddies over for whatever dinner I have to triple when he asks to host them at the last minute. Instead, he is stuck taking walks by himself around the neighborhood, hangs out in his room doing schoolwork and playing guitar or piano (or talking on the phone to his “bros”) and eats dinner at the table with his parents and two little sisters every single night. It is certainly not the ending to his freshman year that he imagined.

So, I try my best to be patient and flexible with our Gator. This return to home is not permanent. Well, it had BETTER not be, or I am going to see if I can book one of those NASA trips to an asteroid as soon as possible. We are trying to cut our gator some slack. And, if you have one of those sweet high school seniors who are missing prom, Grad Bash, senior awards, and graduation, do not take anything personally that they may say or do right now. Just love on them; be patient and let them know that you are there for them no matter what. Think of ways to celebrate them during this time. No matter what happens over the next several months, they will be gone to UF sooner than you realize. And, then, you may even miss them.

Written By Teressa White, Family Ambassador

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I will always remember the day we moved our 2019 Gator into East Hall prior to the start of her Freshman year. There was a sense of excitement and sadness all at once as we finished setting up her dorm room and prepared for our goodbyes. We always felt that she was going to do fine, she had done very well in the IB program, member of the National Honor Society and Beta, been involved in several clubs and was the drum major for the marching band and president of the music honor society. To be honest, I think we more worried about missing her than how she would do during her first semester at UF.

She had moved in early as she had auditioned for The Pride of the Sunshine and have been accepted as a member of the Clarinets section. We heard from her almost every day and were encouraged to hear how well she appeared to be adjusting to being away from home for the very first time in her life, classes seemed to be going fine and she was loving campus life. She found an online campus magazine focused on Asian-Americans and became a reporter in addition to everything else she was already doing. She had been very active in high school, so while we weren’t too concerned I did caution her not to overdo it; I reminded her that she would be at UF for 4 years and she didn’t have to take on so much so soon; she assured me she was fine.

As the semester progressed, we started to hear from her less frequently and thought it might just be a phase and did not want to push too much. While we lived only 2 hours from campus, we did not want to hover and wanted to give her some space. It was a thrill to go up for our first visit during Band Parents’ Weekend and see her perform during practice and meet some of her new friends. She seemed confident and self-assured which offered us relief from our concerns.

October rolls around and we begin to hear from her less, out of concern we contacted our daughter and she assures us again that all is well. Two weeks later, she loses her wallet while riding on a friend’s scooter and calls my wife because she does not know how to go about replacing her debit card, Gator 1 card and driver’s license. While speaking with her, my wife noticed she did not sound well and probes further and finds out she has been sick for at least a week and did not want us to worry. My wife calls me and expresses her concern that our daughter is sick and has no means of getting medicine since she lost her wallet, so I leave work early to make the 2-hour drive up Friday evening to check on her only to find she is pretty sick and hungry. We take her to get something to eat, medication and get her back to the dorm before we make the drive back home. On a side note, another Gator found her wallet the very same day and turned it, someone from UF got in touch with her and retuned the wallet to her the following Monday.

It was clear at that point that UF was like a huge buffet and our daughter had been so busy getting involved in everything UF had to offer. When I called to check on her a few days later, she shared that she had been struggling with a couple of her classes and was beginning to freak out; it turned out that as demanding as the IB program had been, she was not fully prepared for the demands that some college-level courses had presented to her. I pleaded with her to consider dropping some of the other activities she was involved in – she was rushing for the co-ed Music fraternity while participating in the Gator Marching Band, online magazine and another club along with her courses. She assured me that she would buckle down and get it under control. I could somewhat relate as I recalled my first semester in college many years earlier, the big difference was that I had not been involved in an academic program like IB and I assumed my transition had to have been more difficult than hers – I was wrong.

As the days passed, her tone had changed for the worse and we became more alarmed. I recalled how I felt at one point during my first semester and worried that she was in a similar state and had an overwhelming feeling of helplessness. At one point, I don’t remember how it happened, one of the sessions during Preview crossed my mind; the one where some of the students role-played interactions between students and parents over the phone, email or chat and recalled the mentioning of U Matter We Care. I went to their web page ( and proceeded to send the a contact form explaining what was going on and asking for help. As hard as it was for me to admit my daughter was in trouble, I realized I was not equipped to help resolve the concerns.

I have to tell you that it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. The team was caring and discreet, and she was willing to listen to them. Through their support system, they coached my daughter and got her the help she needed to identify her challenges and how to address them. She finally acknowledged that she had spread herself way too thin, made some decisions to drop the online magazine and another club; there was no way she was giving up Gator Marching Band. Our daughter began to see a medical professional who helped identify a cause to some of her mental challenges and with counseling and improvement in her nutrition she began to improve. The counseling sessions continued for another year and our daughter began to thrive.

She continued to be active in The Pride of the Sunshine her entire time at UF, changed her major and was an active participant in the co-ed fraternity. While she dug herself a pretty big hole with her GPA that first year, she turned it around and graduated on time in May 2019. I truly believe that the U Matter team played a part in her success at UF, and do not want to think about what might have been had U Matter not existed; I could never thank them enough! While you may have the urge to jump in and take control of your Gator’s life, my advice would be that you have need to stay engaged with your Gator, have the courage to let your Gator find their way (it Is part of growing up) and to not be afraid to contact U Matter if you ever have a concern. As a parent of both 2019 and 2022 Gators, I hope my sharing of this experience helps at least one family.

Written By David Dozier III, Family Ambassador

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Spring Break is finally here! For some families, this means everyone will be under the same roof again. Others may be find themselves frantically checking apps such as “Find My Friends” and “Life360”, monitoring their student’s whereabouts as they spend time away from school and home. Whether you fit one of those or fall somewhere in between, it is important to remember a few things as you connect with your student. In addition to the much-needed break from academic rigor, Spring Break is an awesome time for students to reset and prepare for the latter part of their semester. Here are a few tips for you to support your student during the break.

  • Revisit the Semester’s Goal. Hopefully your student set goals to begin the semester. Now that we are half-way through, encourage your student to revisit those goals. Are they on-track for success? What’s working? What needs reinforcement? Are there any struggle areas? There is likely still time to achieve success, and there is no better time than now think about those. While you may begin the conversation, allow your student to take the lead. Instead of directing things at students, ask open-ended questions. Remember – Do more listening than talking. They will be more likely to open up and share.
  • Allow Your Student to Rest. Spring cleaning is great, but remember your student may be exhausted. Between classes, homework, studying, and campus involvement, this break is a timely release from their daily schedules. Keep this in mind as your student spends a few extra hours sleeping. If they are unusually clingy, that may be a way of letting you know they’ve missed you, so cherish the moment. They may also spend most of their time reminiscing with old friends. So much of their lives have changed, and breaks like these are perfect ways to revisit normalcy. If your students will be away from home, continue to check-in with them, but remember to allow them space – they will appreciate the freedom. Everyone recharges differently, so the trip, service-learning excursion, or stay in Gainesville might be exactly what your students need.
  • Support & Care for your student. Give them a longer hug than usual. Surprise them with their favorite meal. Provide them with a welcome package at home. Show your love and appreciation for them however you see fit. While your students may not immediately validate or thank you, they will appreciate your thoughtfulness. It will also help them relax and unwind.

Enjoy this time! Many of your students are as, if not more, excited to see you. Spend quality time and make lasting memories. And remember – your students will likely not thank you now, but they will appreciate all you are doing for them.

Written By Shaquille Lowe, UF Staff Member

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The word gratitude comes from the Latin word gratus, which means “thankful, pleasing.” Essentially gratitude is being thankful and showing appreciation. From Thanksgiving to ringing in the New Year, this period is filled with so much celebration, busyness, and at times, chaos. We are continuously eating, buying, and dashing from one event to the next. This year, how different would the season be if we were mindful about stopping to express some gratitude along the way?

Researchers conducted a study that looked at how gratitude affects students in their first year in college1. They found that students that expressed gratitude were less stressed, less depressed, and had higher perceived social support at the end of the first term. So if gratitude is a predictor of happiness and well-being for your student, let’s look at some ways we can express gratitude this holiday season:

  1. Tell your student you care. Vulnerability is often hard to execute. Let’s be a little vulnerable this season and tell your student that you are thankful and proud of them. Whether this is your student’s first or last semester at UF, make sure they know that their hard work throughout the semester is recognized and appreciated.
  2. Reflect. Take some time to reflect back on 2019 with your student and write down goals they accomplished and some they didn’t. Let your student lead the conversation on ways they excelled this year, as well as ways that they can improve in the spring semester. While reflecting on both the good and the bad, express gratitude for the good and be mindful of the bad. Encourage your student to use this awareness to cultivate a new future and imagine how their academic year in 2020 can be different.
  3. Give back. Whether you make a donation that is small or big, it will impact someone’s life in a positive way. This season, get with your student and donate old clothes, outgrown toys, or items in your house that you simply don’t use. Any donation will go a long way in another’s life. This can also help your family gain some perspective on all that we have to be thankful for, as well as the things we can perhaps live without.

I hope this article provided some insight into the benefits of expressing gratitude as well as some simple ways to express it within your family. Often we feel thankful but expressing it to ourselves and others is when we truly make a difference. To read more on gratitude, its research and about how it can affect your life, click here.

Written By Angela Dillenburg, UF Staff Member

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1 Wood, A. M., Froh, J. J., & Geraghty, A. W. A. (2010). Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration. Clinical Psychology Review, 30, 890 – 905.

Thoughts from a Veteran Family Member (August 20th)

While we are all enjoying those first day of classes posts, I wanted share my thoughts and advice with you as your students begin this transition (even if they were here in Summer B – Fall is different). This comes from my 27 years as an academic advisor at UF, as well as from parenting of two twenty-somethings (one a rising UF junior).

At some point you may hear some of these concerns from your students and/or you may want to provide your student with some perspective. It may be in response to some of their concerns or may be when you feel your student just needs to hear a piece of this. UF is whole new ball game, even if your student took many college credits and/or was enrolled elsewhere. I posted this at the beginning of Summer B, but Fall is a whole new ball game, especially given that most of the most rigorous classes are not taught in a 6-week summer term.


  • Your student has been dreaming about going to college for a while. Their vision of their college life is likely not entirely realistic – their academic experience is based on high school classes, their ideas about the social experience is based on TV, movies, and what they’ve heard from individuals (friends and relatives) about their personal experiences. The media/individuals are less likely to share the less than pleasant experiences – the frustrations, academic struggles, moments of loneliness or feelings of isolation, and/or anxieties about making friends, being successful, finding their place and figuring out their future.
  • Most of your students have been in a comfort zone for several years after experiencing the transition to high school – which often was shared with many others they had been to school with before. The transition to UF is much more overwhelming – nearly all of your students have made a big change in their living situation as well as their social and academic lives.
  • Given your students’ relatively limited life experience, they will find that there are moments where college doesn’t live up to their expectations. They may become very distressed or anxious at times.
  • Your life experience has undoubtedly given you perspective that your students lack. They are most likely to turn to you when feeling most vulnerable – you are their safe place, where they can share their worst fears and frustrations and be met with support and sympathy.

A few suggestions:

  • Remind your student that people don’t become friends overnight, it takes time and shared experience. It’s normal to feel in the first term(s) that they don’t yet have close friends they desire and to feel alone at times. They have the advantage some of us oldsters didn’t have of being able to connect with close friends from home (cell phones and social media).
  • At the same time remind your students that social media lives are curated – people only show what they want the world to see. Many of their peers will share the same struggles, but it may not show on the surface.
  • Your student has had in the past experiences before where they didn’t enjoy something and later came to love it or at least to appreciate it and/or benefit from it – a food, an activity, a class, a teacher, whatever. The same will be true of some of their UF experiences.
  • Remind your student how hard it was to get into UF and that we admit great students who are capable of success. However, the path to success might require them to change their study habits and adapt to the rigor and expectations of UF courses. UF is ranked so high in good part BECAUSE of its academic rigor. There is an expectation of mastery of material so the student will be prepared to move on to higher level courses that rely on it. You will hear students complain about “weed-out” classes, but if you also talk to senior students and graduates and people working in the field, they will tell you that upper-level courses are even more difficult and if you want to succeed in med school, complete an Engineering degree, complete a Master’s in Accounting or a Business major, you really DO have to master the material in the prerequisite courses.

Your student’s experience of the campus in the first term or two will only scratch the surface of what exists on campus. So if the initial transition is rough, it doesn’t mean that over time your student won’t discover what it takes to succeed in their path (or change paths to one that is a better fit and that they enjoy more), and discover the parts of campus, social groups, activities, etc. that will help them find their place at UF.

For YOU, please remember that students often call for your support when they are feeling their lowest. I know from personal experience with my kids that they would call when there was a crisis, I would listen, empathize, recommend some steps to be taken, and then often hear nothing. Later, after I’d worried for hours or even days (especially for my son), I’d hear back, “Oh, yeah, I worked it out” or sometimes, “I had to make a new plan, but it’s fine.” So try not to panic, remember that you’re their outlet and that chances are once they’ve vented they’ll go off and begin to address the situation and move on. Be proud if they are doing so, because they are learning the adult problem-solving skills they’ll use all their lives.

I hope some of this helps some of you!

And please, if you feel your student is seriously distressed at any time, you can contact UMatter, We Care at 352-294-CARE.

Written By Lynn O’Sickey, Family Ambassador & UF Staff Member

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