Ah, the bumper sticker. That adhesive little piece of vinyl that provides endless opportunities to customize one’s ride.
By most accounts, bumper stickers have been around almost as long as there have been bumpers.
Some bumper stickers are meant to make us laugh.
Some bumper stickers are meant to inform people about a cause near and dear to the driver’s heart.
Some bumper stickers are even meant to serve as bragging rights for someone’s child who may have made an honor roll, or be part of a band.
Once upon a time, bumper stickers for radio stations were even used in the hopes that the driver would be spotted by a radio station employee and win a prize for their loyalty to said station.
Whatever the message being told, in most cases, someone made a conscience decision to buy the bumper sticker, and then place it somewhere on their car for the world to see.
Of course, sometimes a bumper sticker can silently guide one’s path without ever finding its way onto a bumper.
Such is the case of a humble piece of vinyl advertising that I picked up during a trip to the store with my aunt, grandmother and mom nearly 40 years ago. That piece of vinyl is a University of Florida (UF) bumper sticker.
Had I known at the time what that bumper sticker would lead me to, I likely would have made a bigger deal about it the day I got it.
Instead, the bumper sticker that I plucked from the Pic N’ Save Drugs register has quietly nudged me along from its place on a bookshelf in my life-long dream of becoming a Florida Gator.
To be fair, I did not pick up the bumper sticker because I thought I was setting my collegiate future in stone. Instead, I most likely thought that the colors were cool, or perhaps I just liked that it was free.
Back then, younger me loved to grab every brochure and other marketing material that I found. So, it very well could be that I was merely continuing that trend when I saw the stack of bumper stickers on the register.
Even though it would be nearly a decade before I would have a bumper to put the sticker on, and even more years after that before I would need to pick a college, for whatever reason, on that day I grabbed the bumper sticker and never looked back.
To me, that bumper sticker was more than just some mass-produced marketing collateral advertising a radio station, a drug store and a college football team on one 3” by 6” mosaic.
In the first seven to eight years of my life I was not really aware of college football. But thanks to that bumper sticker, I now had a college football team to root for and would spend many Saturdays in the fall glued to the television set watching the Jefferson Pilot Sports broadcasts of the Gators. Once Steve Spurrier brought the Fun n’ Gun to town, my fandom of the Gators went to a whole new level.
As I grew older and started to become interested in journalism, the bumper sticker reminded me that the University of Florida had a really good journalism program and alumni like Bob Vila and Bob Ross.
Local media personalities I followed in Orlando were also Gator alum, which made me think that if I wanted to be a serious journalist in Florida I best become a Gator.
Ultimately, despite touring the campus with my parents and being thrilled that the College of Journalism and Communications was across the street from the football stadium, my undergrad collegiate career did not end up in Gainesville.
Instead, I stayed close to home and went to a two-year community college 20-minutes from home, before enrolling at the University of Central Florida (UCF), which I could literally see from my parents’ house.
When the Gators won the National Football Championship during my junior year at UCF, I was briefly bummed that I had not been there to take part. In my mind, I would have been a sports reporter for the UF student newspaper and have spent many days interviewing Coach Spurrier about the finer points of the Fun n’ Gun offense.
Instead, I was at UCF blazing a course that I would not have otherwise had. At UCF, I was able to start and run my own newspaper, which is something I would likely not have gotten to do at UF.
I was also able to see UCF grow from a small commuter university trapped in the shadow of the three dominant Florida schools, to the largest university in the country in terms of enrollment and one that routinely best those three “legacy” Florida universities in academics and athletics.
While my undergrad studies did not involve interviewing the ‘Head Ball Coach,” at UCF, I interned in the Sports Information Office and played a vital role in the school’s transition to compete in the highest level of collegiate athletics.
I do not regret choosing UCF over UF one single bit. I am proud of my UCF degree and all of the friends, memories, and experiences that came out of it. I am also proud of my years of service in supporting UCF alumni causes as both a donor and a board member. That will never change.
Still, that bumper sticker remained on my shelf reminding me that, although I did not get my undergrad degree at UF, I could always try to get a graduate degree from there.
After moving to Texas, I even applied a few times for various online programs at UF, but life always seemed to get in the way and I never followed through with enrolling.
Despite not being a UF student, I remained a fan of UF athletics and cheered loudly whenever the Gators were on television.
Afterall, my fandom of the Gators had about a 10-year head start on my fandom of the Knights thanks to that bumper sticker.
So, I resigned myself to the fact that I would likely never be a real Gator, in the same way that Pinocchio likely thought that as hard as he wanted it to be so, he would never be a real boy.
But Jiminy Cricket, that bumper sticker still had me wishing on that Gator star whenever I would dust it on my shelf.
Dreams are a funny thing; they don’t really have an expiration date as long as one continues to believe in them.
So, despite getting a Masters Degree in Sport Management from HBU during the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic, my dream to be a Florida Gator continued to burn deep inside me. So, I decided to apply to UF once more.
And while I had hoped to start in 2021, today, is the first day of class for me as a student in the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida.
It has been a long and winding road to get here, but I am here nonetheless and could not be more excited.
As I stare at the bumper sticker that started it all for me so long ago from its new frame on my wall, I have but one thought which is, “man, I am so glad that it wasn’t a Florida State University bumper sticker at the end of that Pic n’ Save register.”
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some schoolwork to get to, and in the words of that life altering bumper sticker, “Go Gators!”
Copyright 2022 R. Anderson