Lake Osceola’s annual Earth Day squeeze

Students hold hands around Lake Osceola at Hug-the-Lake on Friday, April 21. Photo credit: Alexandra Fisher

Hand in hand, students reached around Lake Osceola to give the lake a several-hundred person hug in honor of Earth Day.

This year is the 19th rendition of Hug the Lake, the prized Earth Day tradition for the University of Miami. It comes just days after the Southeast coast of Florida was inundated with record levels of rainfall that led to rescue efforts, delays and water pollution throughout Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

The “hug” is a symbol of resilience, but also one of compassion for the environment that continues to support the livelihood of UM.

“It is about maintaining what we have and keeping it from getting any worse and appreciating what we have in our little lake,” senior health science major Victoria Galvez said.

A campus-wide celebration overseen by the William R. Butler Center for Volunteer Service and Leadership Development, this year’s festivities focused on environmental education and spreading the message of climate-activism. Over 700 sustainably made shirts were distributed to students on behalf of the Butler center.

“It’s a way to bring education and awareness,” junior political science major Antonella Criscola said. “I hope it sends the message of taking care of the Earth and being aware of the action that they do or do not take.”

Accompanying the 15 minute hug was a 65 foot inflatable sperm whale display and an eco-fair led by Student Government’s ECO Agency and the Office of Sustainability. The fair featured Florida Power and Light, who the university has a contract with to provide solar-powered energy to campus as a member of FPL’s SolarTogether initiative.

Representative from the city of Coral Gables speaks to a student.
Representative from the city of Coral Gables speaks to a student. Photo credit: Alexandra Fisher

The celebration also highlighted the work being done at UM everyday. Since ECO Agency’s founding in 2012, the SG committee has taken on a series of projects with other environmental groups throughout campus to increase sustainability awareness and make UM more green. These include solar benches, installing heat trapping film in windows and the reuse sale that collects items from student housing at the end of each year to sell at a low price to incoming first year students.

“Earth day should be everyday. But it’s not easy, everybody has their own life,” said Teddy Lhoutellier, the sustainability director at UM. “This is something that we do all year long. You might not see it but as we speak a 100 kilowatt solar system has been finalized on top of the field house for instance.”

UM’s Office of the President also used the event as an opportunity to present the 2023 Roberta “Bosey” Fulbright Foote Prize to a student and faculty member that have embodied UM’s sustainability goals.

Pavan Gudoor, the student recipient, is the co-chair of ECO Agency and has worked to implement several initiatives including the Food Alert Program to reduce food waste on campus.

“Gudoor has been at the forefront of everything that ECO’s done in the last four years and has been pushing for the ECO Rep program that was nothing four years ago now,” Lhoutellier said.

The staff award was dedicated to Son Vo, the senior manager of facilities and operations that has overseen grounds management on campus with a focus on native landscaping, butterfly gardens and the Arboretum.

Students pose with Sebatian wearing their Hug the Lake day shirts on Friday, April 21 at the Lakeside Patio.
Students pose with Sebatian wearing their Hug the Lake day shirts on Friday, April 21 at the Lakeside Patio. Photo credit: Reese Putnam

The University now looks ahead to its 20th anniversary of Hug the Lake that will take place in 2024 and the continued commitment to its sustainability mission statement that began in 2005 with the launching of Green U.

“It’s really on all of us, one big UM community and the larger community. This is our Earth Day reminder of that,” Lindsey Goldstein, the Butler Center coordinator for the event, said.