My girlfriend and I went next door to a bar the other night to watch some of the BCS Championship game. We both went to the University of Florida as graduate students, and sitting beside some real Gator supporters while my girlfriend chanted “If you’re not a master, then mas-tur-bate!” got me thinking about a grad student’s ties to a big, spirited school like UF.
During my two years in Gainesville (2003-2005), I enjoyed baseball and softball games in pleasant weather, as well as the football team’s spring scrimmages, but I wasn’t a backer, despite the campus trashcans’ explicit exhortations to “Put it in the can, Gator fan,” which made me smile daily. When I taught undergraduates, the lure of the big game and my writing assignments vied for their time and energy, and my writing assignments, with no tailgating on offer, were the Prairie View of Undergraduate Time and Energy. The football players rode around on free mopeds while I labored for a salary that barely broke five digits. Worst of all was the basketball team, which, to the eyes of someone weaned on Michigan State hoops discipline (yes, Spartan discipline), was a pack of over-hyped gunners.
In my mind, though, the dichotomy wasn’t Righteous Scholars versus Jocks and their Ovine Admirers, Abundant Funding, and Kymco ZX 50 Scooters. (Though a scooter would have been pretty convenient, since I was riding a bicycle that was so undersized that I was described by one observer as “a giraffe pushing a rolling pin.”) The dichotomy was between the slick, successful new university and the erstwhile school in the middle of a swamp, stocked with oddballs, where professors held office hours in a seamy bar or a bowling alley hosting a party of mentally challenged adults, and where sporting events involved firearms, livestock, or competitive eating--the institution I wanted to attend, and did, on days I stayed off campus. The Authentic vs. the Synthetic, or something similar, awkwardly translated from the French.
Then I left Gainesville, and college’s natural de-selection of over-hyped gunners resulted in a scrappy UF basketball team that I kind of like, and Chris Leak showed up his own team’s fan base by winning it all, and I realized I’d oversimplified matters. The athletic department at your grad school is like inessential in-laws—your spouse’s cousins, maybe. You’re allowed to hate them as long as you keep it to yourself. And you do, until the day you hear they got together and worked night and day at a literal drawing board and figured out how to fit all twenty-eight of themselves into a Geo Prizm, and then they succeeded, and are now included in the Guinness Book of World Records, and you say to your spouse, “Spouse, I never liked your cousins (other than Vince Young) that much, their small stature and commitment to record-breaking always kind of creeped me out, but this demonstration of flexibility, endurance, and familial intimacy impresses me greatly.”
The equivalent cheer, with football substituted for fitting adults into a Geo Prizm, I hereby send out to the University of Florida!