By Rebecca Vitkus

Junior, English major

With only nine short days left of the summer before my second year at UF, I was thinking about how much I’ve learned so far and what I would tell myself if I could go back to the beginning of my freshman year. I know this is usually something people like to do when they graduate, but I figured the things I’ve learned might be helpful tips for the new Baby Gators and nice reminders for the not-so-Baby ones.

Dear Baby Gator, 

Congratulations on your biggest accomplishment thus far! Your achievements and successes will only be more impressive from here, but know that they will come with some failures and rejections, too.

You will learn more in these nine months than you ever have before, but most of it will not be academic. As cliché as it sounds, you will learn more about yourself and the world around you than you could ever imagine learning.

Let’s start with my most important piece of advice: As difficult as it is, please rid yourself of any preconceived notions of what you think college should be. This experience truly is unique for everyone. Maybe you’ll graduate in only three years, or maybe it will take you five. Maybe you’ll actually stay on the Pre-Med track, or maybe you’ll find that you’re more passionate about history and politics. Maybe you’ll be inseparable with the people on your floor, or maybe you’ll find new friendships in your classes. If you let go of whatever you think should happen and instead focus on making the best of your circumstances, you’ll be much happier in the long run. I promise.

People are friendlier than you think they are. If you smile at someone, they actually smile back. It’s terrifying to turn to the kid next to you in class and introduce yourself, but it doesn’t hurt anyone, and you might just make a new friend.

Gainesville is cold – I mean, in the thirties for weeks at a time, winter coats and boots, “I can see my breath” cold. Don’t bring all of your jackets home over winter break; it only gets colder from there. Conversely, don’t bring all of your tank tops home for winter break, either. You’ll forget them there, and when it’s hot, it’s hot.

You really do get a lot of free things in college. It’s mostly food, sunglasses, or cups, but occasionally, you might snag a t-shirt.

You will not sleep, and because of it, you will get very, very sick. PLEASE sleep. You’ll get much better at this during the spring, but if you learn this now, it will save you a lot of stress. Also, please eat. Seriously, schedule it into your planner or something. Cereal for dinner and M&M’s for breakfast do not count as complete meals.

Life isn’t fair. You will have a professor whose stubbornness will drive you to tears. Please don’t let him ruin your semester. You might not get the grade, the internship, or the job opportunity that you were hoping for. Please don’t let that ruin the passion you have for reaching your goals. You might sleep through a class, miss your bus by three seconds, or forget to do an assignment. Please don’t let those setbacks ruin your drive to succeed.

Good things happen, too. You will have a TA whom you can’t stand the sight of, but by the end of the semester, she’ll grow on you. You will have a class that you hate with the burning passion of ten thousand suns, but by the end of the semester, you’ll actually be sad to see it go. You will walk into a classroom not knowing a soul, but after many group projects and class discussions, by the end of the semester, you’ll have a new set of friends.

You will get lost. You will take the wrong bus (many times, actually). You will get caught in the rain without an umbrella. Not every day will be a good one, but there will be something good in every day, if you look for it.

Here’s my word of encouragement – after all of your hard work in high school, be proud, because you definitely made the right decision in attending the University of Florida and joining the Honors Program.


Rebecca – a former Baby Gator