Thousands of Gators graduate

UF graduates during a commencement ceremony for UF graduates held at the O'Connell Center on the UF campus, in Gainesville, Saturday Dec. 15, 2012.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Saturday, December 15, 2012 at 8:38 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, December 15, 2012 at 8:38 p.m.

Clad in his black cap and gown, Tope Dipe stood in a line of graduates outside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and waited.

Dipe, 22, had just graduated the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in health education and behavior. Now it was time to take part in a campus tradition — posing for photographs with family members at the Bull Gator statue.

"Taking a picture with the Bull Gator is basically the way you crown your tenure here at UF," Dipe said.

Around the perimeter of the football stadium, dozens of other graduates were doing their part to keep the tradition going. They waved the Gator chomp and posed at one of the two Bull Gator statues or the statue of football hero and Heisman winner Tim Tebow. Across University Avenue, Alyese Stapf posed for pictures with her family at the statues of UF mascots Albert and Alberta.

"You've gotta get a picture with the gators," she said. "It's tradition."

Stapf, 21, graduated in 3 years with a bachelor's in biology. Reminiscing, she said she'd look back fondly on the year she spent playing on the softball team, the classes she enjoyed and just walking across the campus.

While some graduates carried bouquets of flowers or clutched bunches of balloons, Johns Bustamante had some more unique accessories — a necklace made of one dollar bills and another of Starburst and Nerds candies.

Bustamante, 30, served in the Air Force before attending first community college and then UF. He graduated with a degree in microbiology and plans to attend medical school. His time at UF, he said, was a balancing act of hard work and fun.

"I love it," Bustamante said of UF. "This is the best decision I ever made coming to this school."

For Gabriella Edington, 21, college also was a mix of grueling school work and fun.

Edington grew up in Tallahassee but wanted to move away from home "for just a little" to live the college experience.

"I remember when I first got here I was terrified," she said.

Edington graduated in 3 years with a bachelor's in biochemistry and plans to attend medical school.

She said she'd miss hanging out with friends in the Reitz Union and the eccentric characters and "crazy stuff going on" at Turlington Plaza. Edington had her own contribution to the never-dull plaza: As a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, she performed step-and-stroll routines on the plaza with her sorority sisters.

Ashley Armbruster, 24, got her undergraduate degree at another state school and then attended UF for graduate school. On Saturday, she graduated with a master's degree in occupational therapy.

"It's so different here at Florida," she said. "It's got a lot of heart, a lot of soul."

Armbruster said she'd miss the friends she has made over the last 2 years. She said the Health Professions/Nursing/Pharmacy (HPNP) Building would "hold a special place in my heart" because of the long hours spent there.

Of course, the University of Florida is known for its football Saturdays, and Armbruster said there was one more thing she'd look back on fondly.

"I'll miss tailgating," she said.

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