For the past month, several USF students have been barraged with compliments by a small group of boisterous students holding a whiteboard reading “Free Compliments!” outside the Library.
Some passersby are commended for their fashion sense, such as choice in clothing, accessories or haircut. Others are commended for their disposition — a nice smile or an “overwhelming swagger.”
Nicholas Ruffini, complimenter and physics major, said the group of friends simply wishes to better the USF community.
“We are generally positive people, but we do have our bad days,” he said. “Just trying to get through the day, only thinking of the next nap.”
Ruffini said he and his friends got the idea from a YouTube video.
They wondered why it was abnormal to compliment strangers.
As a response, they decided to set an example for how others could show compassion toward their peers.
Nikhil Bhatia, complimenter and biomedical science major, said he thought the stretch between the USF Library and Cooper Hall was an ideal place for the exhibit.
“People get really stressed out coming here,” he said.
The group performed the stunt for the first time in late October, but Bhatia said he wishes they had done it sooner.
“One guy said he wished we were here yesterday,” he said. He was having a bad day and we could have brightened his day a little bit.”
Though most people are grateful for the compliment, others act awkwardly or skeptically, Bhatia said.
“A guy once walked up and challenged us to compliment him,” he said. “That’s a lot of pressure.”
Most passersby can’t help but smile, even if they try to hide it.
Robert Johnson, who was admired for his ponytail, said his morale was lifted.
“I really like compliments about my hair because this has been a decision that’s been controversial with family and friends,” he said. “It makes me feel more confident.”
Ryan Ruiz, who received a compliment on his hat, thought the courtesy could have a psychological impact on students.
“I’m feeling good, and that feeling is going to carry me through the rest of the day,” he said.
Bhatia said despite doing this five times now, he and his friends are still nervous up to the point the first compliment is given.
“I know after I did it, I walk around a little happier and more excited about the day,” he said. “That’s what we get out of it.”
Ruffini said he can now better connect with strangers, and is more aware of social cues and body language.
The group hopes to leave a legacy — a USF tradition to be carried on long after their graduation, Bhatia said.
Ruffini said he thought it would have been nice if students welcomed him with compliments when he was a freshman.
“Everyone is in this together,” he said. “We’re trying to change the world, one smile at a time.”