to new beginnings & the gators

Flashback to last year, around this exact time, I had to make a decision. Though I told myself and many around me that I knew what I was going to be doing come August, I couldn’t quite convince myself I had actually decided. The University of Florida had been my dream since the first time I could scream “Go Gators”, but my life for the past eighteen years was at home in Georgia. Not to mention my entire family and most of my friends who hadn’t already ventured off to college remained in Valdosta, so part of my mind and heart thought maybe I should too. I spent years wishing for an acceptance into the University of Florida and a chance to start my life as Gator, and when it finally fell into my lap, I felt fear.

Growing up in small town South Georgia, attending an intimate private school, living minutes from all of my family members, and making memories that make up who I am never pushed me to move away from home. Maybe the small town life did come with its drama, few to none when it came to choices in restaurants and shopping, and not being able to go into town without seeing three people I knew should have made me want to flee. But, when it came down to it, I was scared and kind of sad. I always talked the talk about getting out of Valdosta and not getting stuck like so many before me had, but what can I say, the place grows on you. It definitely grew on me.

I spent my freshman year of college at our local university and at first, was less than thrilled about it. I counted down the days in my head until I could move on to a bigger school and a new town. The semester started and I rushed the best sorority, made so many new friends, and just became comfortable, which I could have never imagined myself being in Valdosta. The year flew by and I chose to push my UF acceptance to the back of my mind thinking I had nothing but time to make my decision and figure it all out. My official letter of acceptance came in the mail in early spring and my family’s excitement radiated onto me. How could I not be excited to live out my dreams and attend one of the best universities in the nation? A question I asked myself over and over all year trying to make up my mind.

I finally came to the conclusion that not attending UF would only hurt me and my future, but leaving behind the only place I had ever known may have that same effect. I couldn’t imagine being more than a five minute drive away from my boyfriend or not being able to call my grandma or sisters to meet me for lunch on a slow Tuesday. I wanted to be able  to stay close to my family and for my friends to not move on without me. Everything in front of me, everything that could be, scared me.

After many talks with my family, denials from my friends, and tears from myself, I made the choice to leave my small town behind and move onto something bigger. So August came along and my mom threw me a grand going-away party, in true Judy fashion, with all my friends and family (& even my dogs). I spent my last night in my Valdosta apartment and spent my final day at home with my mom, shopping and eating at my favorite place. When it came to goodbyes, I cried… a lot (I’ve become a crier in the recent years, what can I say), but I knew I had to hold it together and follow my heart or else I’d always regret it. So I packed up my car, and the pups and I headed off for our new adventure.

Like I previously mentioned in my first ever blog post, in no way were my first few weeks in Gainesville anything like I may have hoped or imagined they’d be. I missed my mom, got lost around campus, didn’t know how to use the bus, and knew practically nobody. But I pushed myself outside of my bubble and decided if nothing else, I’d try my absolute hardest before giving up on my dream school. On my first visit to the ADPi house I was introduced to someone who is now one of my best friends and I’m not quite sure what I’ll do when she graduates Saturday & we can’t run to Disney whenever we please. I emerged into the world around me, met people in my classes, and finally started to feel at home. A reunion with my old tennis camp roommate quickly turned into my best friend, someone I was able to feel at home with, someone who spent hours working on online classes with me, and was always up for some fun or cookie dough (Moo- I am eternally grateful for you and our friendship). I even found someone who is just as much of a “foodie” as me & never said no to a date night if poke or queso were involved. Soon enough, I no longer felt left out but at home and comfortable in my new life, like I couldn’t understand how I had gone the past nineteen years without these people or this place.

Gainesville and UF have changed me and shaped me in ways I could have never imagined. I thought I was done growing and learning, that I had matured into the person I’d be from then on, but boy was I wrong. I’ve learned how to be a better student, friend, family member, and overall person this year – none of which may have happened if I hadn’t taken the risk of going out on my own and experiencing what I feared to be the unknown. I now know what handwork looks like when it comes to college, what true friendships feel like -shouts to all of my friends at home who never let our relationship fade, and how much a university or city could change my perspective on life and the world around me. So here it is. Here is my thank you letter to this year, to the people, the places, and the moments that have changed my life for the better – I am forever grateful and so so appreciative…

to my mom & dad – thank you thank you, the most important thank you I can and ever will give is to the two of you. thank you for always pushing me to chase my dreams and follow my heart. thank you for allowing me to do so by always providing for me, both financially and emotionally. you have done nothing but support me this year by encouraging me to follow through and be the best I could ever be. I love you so much and couldn’t have even come close to getting through this year without you two by my side.

to the university of florida – this one may sound weird to some, but I’m a nerd so follow along… thank you for being all I ever dreamed you would be. since I was a little girl sporting my Gator cheer outfit, I wished for the day where I’d walk the halls as a student of this spectacular university. a university that not only pushes me to work hard and network myself both inside and outside of the classroom, but shows the importance of life after college and the relationships you make while here. I cannot wait for the next two years spent here, go gators always.

to my boyfriend – 106 miles aint got nothin on us. thank you for being my rock this year and never letting me give up on myself, us, or my dreams. you could have easily asked me to stay at home with you but instead you pushed me to do what was best for me and promised you’d always be there along the way, thank you. thank you for listen to me cry on the phone when I felt homesick or letting me talk for hours when I missed your voice. thank you for random visits to gainesville just to eat Bento, watch me play softball, or spend a couple of hours together. four years together and I swear this one has been our best, thank you for completing me, I love you always.

to my family – thank you for always being by my side when I needed you most. thank you for letting me call you weekly, daily, or hourly (or for Heather -every thirty minutes??) when I may have been feeling alone or just wanting to talk. thank you for never not inviting me even though I was miles away. thank you for constant visits, 11:11 messages, and support – y’all my 85 year old grandma drove to gainesville just to spend a weekend with me. I’ve never truly felt alone with y’all on my side, you made my first year away from home and away from you bearable.

to the sisters of Alpha Delta Pi, Gamma Iota – thank you x a million. thank you for never, not once, making me feel like I was on the outside or like I didn’t belong. from the second I stepped into the door of our little white & blue house I have felt at home. thank you for always including me, introducing yourselves to the new girl, and accepting a complete stranger into your lives. thanks to you I have learned what its like to have amazing friends, I have learned what sisterhood looks and feels like, and I have seen Jesus in all of you amazing souls.

to my friends I could never leave behind – thank you for always being there, for always encouraging and supporting me, and for never letting our friendships go or die (you know who you are). I could never move on or out grow any of you, and no matter how content I am at my new school & in my new life, it is never complete without you. even to my three best friends who calls Athens home, the extra hour didn’t change a thing, even though the dawgs suck 😉 thank you for the texts, facetimes, lunch dates, and more that remind me how important our friendship is. I’ve missed you an insane amount this year and summer is finally here so I can return to your beautiful faces!!


I am so thankful for the most important, influential, amazing year or my life. I cannot believe I completed my last final, my sophomore year has come to a close, and I’ll be heading home for the summer tomorrow. Seeya next year Gville, you rock & will be missed. xx

keep scrolling for a little look at my first year as a Gator :-)))










2 thoughts on “to new beginnings & the gators

  1. Hailee Jewel you are a remarkable young woman and a breath of fresh air. I am so very proud of you and truly enjoy seeing you enjoy life. I pray God will bless you as you travel through each chapter in your life. Congratulations on completing your first year at UF!!💖💖💖

    Liked by 1 person

  2. God led you to us at UF for a reason!!! Thank you for all the laughs, junk food, and disney trips that I will hold onto for a lifetime! NYC trips all the time!!! 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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