I only knew about the University of West Florida because my mom and them live in Pensacola, where the main campus of UWF is located. I didn’t intend to attend, in fact, I’d been accepted to all of the other universities to which I’d applied and fully intended to go to the University of Texas at San Antonio or Southwest Texas State University. Like, I was picking out roommates and everything. Then, I called each university and asked them about their journalism programs. This is kind of a fate moment to me, because at each school, the person in the guidance counselor’s offices who answered the phone had no business answering questions about the schools. Both of these people told me there was no journalism degree/school; but, I could, like, be an English major? I took their word because I was a junior in high school and people who are official people at universities and answer official phones know these things, right?
After my plans changed, I started talking to my mom and sister about UWF. They really wanted me to go there. I hadn’t lived with my mom since I was 10, and it was nice to think about being around her again. So, they put the bug in my ear about going to UWF. And going to school in a different state was appealing.
I can not stress enough how much I lucked out with UWF, y’all. The campus is gorgeous. It’s lush, green, full of pink azaleas and Spanish Moss draped off giant trees. It smells of pine and rain. It has lots of nature trails and water. Just so pretty. When I was there, the buildings were a little run down, but it felt comfortable and homey. It has sense undergone quite a bit of construction and renovation and the buildings are pretty amazing. But let me tell you about the people.
The first person I met was Xanthe. Xanthe was (is) a stunningly beautiful person, inside and out. We met at orientation. We were paired together for some horrible ice-breaker exercise and figured out quickly that we both hated ice breakers and were going to be in the College of Communications. Xanthe became a good friend, and included me in outings with her friends or just had me over to her room to eat Ben and Jerry’s. I don’t think she’ll ever know how much she eased my transition away from all of my friends and the family I’d grown up with. We’ve stayed in touch and now I get to watch her sweet baby growing up in pictures online. Fun fact, she did some on-air work for those packaged stories you see in physician’s offices, and when I was pregnant with my youngest I was waiting for my appointment and thought I was hearing things when I recognized her voice. But she was actually on the television talking to the waiting moms about how to properly install car seats!
Carole, Lori, and Jodi were three wonderful women who invited me into their group. I don’t really remember how we met, but I’m so glad we did. They were all so funny and smart and lived together in one of the dorms. I think it was the first time I really got to know people from very different parts of the country. We watched “Philadelphia” in a dollar movie theater and drove to Mobile (I think?) to watch Pearl Jam in concert. I cried during both and never felt a second of embarrassment. When I got married our Sophomore year of college, I asked them all to be in my wedding. But we were all broke, and I was getting married over Christmas break, so they couldn’t. They wanted to, and that’s what mattered. Recently, Carole moved to the same part of Texas as me, and we’ve gotten to hang out and get to know each other as adults. She’s just as rad now as she was in 1994. Through Carole, I’ve reconnected with Lori on social media and I’m getting to see what kind of woman she’s become.
Stephanie was a fellow Public Relations student and we took several classes together. I loved Stephanie. She was matter-of-fact without being unkind, funny and really smart. She was from the area and I got to meet her mom and dog. Stephanie was the perfect partner-in-crime to have for our classes. We were very similar in humor and things we found ridiculous. We took a lot of our electives together, and we both know entirely too much about the Nazi filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl, because of a history of documentary film class. Entirely too much. We also took a history of the old south class and had a bit of a crush on the professor. Again, through the magic of social media, I’m getting to watch Steph raise her beautiful son and do amazing work that is making such a positive difference in her community.
Let me tell you about my professors. My second semester, I took a public speaking class as one of my electives. Joe Martin was a young, dynamic teacher. He was so smart and relatable. Even better, he had earned his Master’s from UWF and had a lot of insight into the professors from whom I’d be taking classes. He also tutored me on the weekends in Algebra which I was failing miserably. Joe was the first person to point me toward PR as a career. Most of the students in his class were on the Communications track and he was constantly grouping me with the PR students instead of the Journalism students which I was *very* clearly going to be. He suggested I take a PR class and I loved it. So, fine, he was right.
Eileen Perrigo taught several of my communications classes and was also my internship coordinator and supervisor. She is also a friend. Eileen was a passionate teacher and was always available for a conversation. Eileen also had amazing jewelry and always looked so great. When I was unexpectedly fired from my first job after college, she was the first person I called. Above what she taught me in class, Eileen taught me confidence and to trust in my skills and brain. Plus, she likes to see pictures of my kids.
Dr. Martha Saunders taught almost all of my PR classes. If she calls me in the middle of the night, I can tell her the four steps in the PR process. In her classes, I learned how to temper my sarcasm and pithy comments. Martha was also always open for any conversation, was so funny and smart. I also knew, from Martha, that my goal was to be a consummate professional no matter the circumstance. A couple of years ago, my niece went back to UWF and was looking for a flexible job that she could work while she was learning. I sent a quick note to Martha who helped connect my niece with several options. It was such a lovely gesture and so helpful. Between Eileen and Martha, I had some amazing role models in both my professional and personal lives.
I got a stellar education at UWF. I learned so much and got to take some really cool classes. I met people from all over the world, made a fool of myself, and grew so much. My classes, friends, and professors helped me lay the foundation for a career in my field (I mean, I’m actually using the degree I earned). I’m jealous of the students going there now because they are getting to use amazing facilities, but I could not be happier with the education I got there.
This past December, I celebrated graduating 20 years ago from UWF. I’m not sure how that is possible, but I double checked the calendar, and it’s true. Coincidentally, I finished paying my student loans the same month (this is totally on me, the cost of UWF was very reasonable).
When you go to a small school in a different state, you very rarely have people who know your school. My husband can probably tell every other person on the street that he went to UT Austin and they will have too. I have never had that happen until a few months ago when I was wearing my UWF sweatshirt in the grocery store. A gentleman in his 60s saw my shirt, stopped me, and asked me if I was an Argonaut! I was honestly a little confused because it’s never happened to me. After a second, when my mind registered what he was asking, I said, “Yes! Nobody ever knows that!” He graduated in the 1960s, which means he was one of the first graduating classes. His wife teaches an online class there and his daughter works on campus. It was such a fun experience to meet someone who was just as proud to be an Argonaut as I am. Go, Argos!
Check out this awesome university, which just turned 50!