UNF’s First Lady: Her life, Her contributions, Her passion

Heydi Ortiz, Police Reporter

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Bright energy filled the room as the first lady ecstatically answered questions about her life before and after marrying the president and talked her passion for teaching.

Maria Szymanski met the UNF president at the University of North Carolina, where cheerleaders introduced her to him at a basketball game. She then asked him to dance at a college function and shortly after they began dating and eventually got married.

Maria Szymanski visits the UNF Preschool.
Courtesy of the University of North Florida.

“When I think about the university and I think about him and my role in it, it’s something that I’m very very passionate to be apart of because when you’re apart of this type of role, you have a responsibility” said Szymanski as she introduced herself and talked about her duties as the president’s wife.

But there’s more to know about the first lady than what meets the eye.

“I was born in Greece. My dad was in America so you know the American dream. The American dream is to bring everybody to the USA and let me tell you, it is the greatest country in the world” said Szymanski. “We came to the United States and I was put in second grade and I didn’t know the language but quickly, quickly you have to learn and you have to pick it up because you have to survive.”

The first lady said she learned a lot about being an educator from her second grade teacher who utilized every resource, from the students to the community, to make her feel like she was welcome.

Maria Szymanski meets with students at the Thomas G. Carpenter Library.
Courtesy of the University of North Florida.

Her dedication to the university stems from her loving and caring character as well as her passion for teaching and getting to know students from all backgrounds.

Szymanski has visited UNF’s preschool and the Wolfson’s hospital and has read books about motivation to children in an attempt to create a positive atmosphere. She also handed out food and snacks to stressed out students in the library during finals week alongside her husband.

“If you do not know the student and the needs of those students, you have failed. You start out by this- and a lot of people forget – how do students come into your classroom? Are they hungry, are they sad? What causes them maybe to have a great morning or not to have a great morning? When you assess that you will a much more productive day and they will too.”

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