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Move-In Day Through the Years

Editor’s note: COVID-19 has turned Move-In Day this year into the ‘Move-In 12 Days.’ To keep crowds to a minimum, appointments and masks will be required, only two guests per student will be allowed into buildings, and the flow in and out will be controlled.

But much will remain the same – a lot of excitement, a little trepidation, loads of pride and maybe a few tears.

We asked Carl Van Ness, university historian, to look back on Move-In Day through the years.

College students have been arriving in Gainesville since the University of Florida moved here in September 1906. Only 91 students came that year – all men – and all but a few lodged in Buckman Hall, one of the few buildings on campus.

Much has changed since those earliest days, but many aspects of the move-in experience remain the same.

Students must still pack and unpack their worldly belongings. In the early years, most students arrived by train, and their gear was neatly stashed in a single trunk. For a small fee, someone at the train station would bring your trunk to campus. On the south side of Sledd Hall, you will still see a window with the words TRUNK DELIVERY above it. Trunks were brought to the window and lowered to a basement area for pickup later. (The lift is still there.)

As the decades passed, trains gave way to motor vehicles, and the fall spectacle now included  families depositing their kids and assisting in the unpacking. While many of today’s students say their goodbyes at home and arrive in their own cars, plenty of parents still make the trek to Gainesville for move-in assistance and a fond farewell. (Savvy Gainesville locals mark their calendars for the start of fall semester and wisely avoid any trips to Target for at least two weeks.)

ID cards and numbers are still issued to new students. Photo IDs were introduced in the 1950s and had to be replaced each year. The permanent Gator 1 card made its appearance in 1990 and is mandatory for all students, faculty and staff. (The cards provide access to a number of critical services, and woe betide anyone who misplaces a card.)

New students have always received some level of official orientation before being sent out on their own to navigate UF. Prior to 1960, they were given a handy, pocket-sized publication which included a small campus map. Students can still acquire a paper map, but many today prefer to use their phones. (GPS apparently has its limitations, as evident by the number of students who enter Smathers Library looking for the Registrar, which is about 30 feet further south in Criser Hall. No, you have not arrived at your destination.)

One ritual of a new semester that has passed into history is the chaos and madness associated with mass course registration. Students no longer pour into the gymnasium to experience the agony of navigating multiple tables searching for any MWF 4th period class that would fulfill a certain degree requirement. Instead, course registration is now online, and students hurl obscenities at their screens while attempting the same impossible task. (Different ritual, same result.)

If this piece has stirred any memories, good or bad, of your experiences arriving at the University of Florida, please share them with us at archives@uflib.ufl.edu. If you have photos to enhance those memories, all the better. (Do not, however, send us your old Gator 1 card. Keep it as part of your own family archives.)

All photos courtesy of University Florida Archives, George A. Smathers Libraries

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The first University of Florida students – all men -- arrived via train, but as the decades passed, parents transported their children to campus in the family car. The vehicles and fashions have changed, but the move-in ritual still involves plenty of touching moments between proud parents and excited students.

Stocking up on gear celebrating UF is a rite of passage going back decades.

In the days before online registering, students, like these in the 1960s, had to stand in line at the Florida Gym.

Photo IDs were introduced at UF in the 1950s. The start of each new academic year meant that students had to sit for a new picture ID.

While today’s new students often rely on their phones to get around campus, electronic options were not available in the early 1980s.

A computerized UF ID card replaced the old photo ID card in 1990. Here, one of the first UF students to receive a Gator1 ID smiles for the “video camera” in June 1990.

As students began to rely more on mini fridges and en suite kitchens, move-in day grew to encompass a new ritual: shopping for groceries. Here, two UF undergrads head back to their dorms after a shopping spree at Winn-Dixie supermarket, in August 1990.

Printed campus maps are still offered to new students at UF. In Fall 1993, when this photo was taken, they were the only option.