Early Sunday morning, I checked my phone (for the time) but was instead, shown dozens of pop-up notifications reading: "friends marked safe" residing in Orlando. Confused, I opened Facebook and read about a "20-confirmed-dead" shooting that had just happened in Orlando. (The count was later confirmed to 49).
I couldn't hold back tears and began crying so much that it woke my husband. People know I was born in Wisconsin, they know I went to college in Florida, and they know I came to New York City from Georgia, but most people don't know about the three years I spent in Orlando during graduate school.
This isn’t a post about how a couple acquaintances perished Saturday evening. This isn’t an angry post where I confront people claiming this was “planned by the CIA” or worse, “a Hoax”. So if that’s what you were expecting, it's time to exit. This is a post about what my life was like in Orlando, and how I'm proud to identify as a former Orlando resident, University of Central Florida Knight, and Central Floridian.
On August 21st, 2009 my parents and I unpacked our cars and they helped me move into my new apartment in Orlando, FL. I was 22 and about to begin graduate school. I was unsure of both Orlando and UCF as a whole, my first choice was SCAD-Atlanta (where coincidentally, I ended up working) but I ending up taking advice from a former professor, who taught me: "grad school is what you make it" - a saying I often echo to my undergraduate students today.
My first year of graduate school was challenging, often leaving me up at 3am to finish projects. I balanced my social life with school and work. Many evenings were spent working at Kohl's Department Stores. I was in a long-distance relationship. I drove an unreliable 2001 Volkswagen Beetle that I purchased 4 months prior. At times, there was less than $1 in my debit account, but I had some amazing friends and roommates who shared the struggle alongside me.
Life went on and in summer of 2010, I interned at UCF's Flying Horse Editions. I got to know my co-workers at Kohl's well this summer. My weekends were spent watching my friend Ruben do stand-up comedy, supporting my friend’s band play shows around town, and attending various parties. I became heavily involved in Snap! Orlando and was excited to see Central Florida's art scene take off.
In the studio next to mine was an individual from Miami, Mizz Cori. Some of my favorite memories were talking with her about her struggles, ideas, work and experiences. I modeled for some of her projects, and sometimes went out with her to venues, such as Pulse.
My roommates, friends and I had season passes to Universal Studios. We would go on a weekly basis and ride roller coasters until the park closed.
I’ve never been a slacker. In my third and final year of graduate school, I quickly wrote out my MFA Thesis and interviewed for 30+ jobs in 7 different states. I was constantly flying around, and my art got into some great exhibitions. I was always relieved when it was time to board that plane to head home: home to Orlando. I graduated with my MFA in Spring of 2012.
On July 17th I packed up my Volkswagen Beetle and moved to Atlanta, GA. Since then, I've worked at two private art colleges and am a proud advocate of public universities. I'm honored to be an MFA-holding Knight from the University of Central Florida. I'm excited to answer, "what's UCF?" when my RISD/SAIC/(private-art-college-name-here) colleagues ask what the letters on my sweater stands for.
There are SO many great things about Orlando. Orlando is home to Arnold Palmer Hospital, Walt Disney World and Universal Studios. Orlando is consistently growing with contemporary galleries and artists. There’s a sense of community, instead of competition- that local musicians, comedians and artists are given in Central Florida. Orlando is home to the Orlando Magic, Orlando City Soccer and The Solar Bears. Orlando is home to Full Sail University and Rollins College. Orlando is home to the second largest University in America, my alma mater, the University of Central Florida. Orlando has an accepting, powerful LGBT community that sets a standard for Central Florida and beyond. Most importantly, Orlando is home to some of the most influential figures in my life.
I liked Tallahassee and Atlanta, but Orlando is where I became an adult.