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Challenging Year to be Student Government President

05/06/2021  /  Ryan Desmond - 2020/2021 SGA President
A picture of SGA President Ryan Desmond at #WesternAwards
SGA President Ryan Desmond presenting at Mustang Awards

What a year and a close of a chapter! I do not often look back on things and wonder what could have been, it is a subjective reality at best. Hindsight is 20/20 after all. However, I find that this experience is perhaps interesting enough in retrospect to look back on and leave a few words for those who will come after me in my stead. Student Government is often something that is often done to buff up a resume. Universities love someone who is involved in student life, and you get to add all those glorious activities and events you oversaw. There is nothing outright wrong with this way of thinking. However, this is not how I found myself in SGA, let alone the president during a pandemic.

Truthfully, I had no aspirations to be involved any more in SGA than was required to as the president of a few clubs. As a semester ended with a pandemic starting, there a sudden vacuum in SGA. I was asked by a friend to run, and so I did. I entered my position in the fall of 2020 with one founding principle in mind, focus on things that mattered. SGA, from my two years observation, felt like a glorified party organization, in that all they did was throw a party for the students on campus and then pat themselves on the back. Now this is not to say they did not have some good ideas, like the Student Bill of Rights that was formed on my predecessor’s term. I wanted to make it the organization that listened to the students, saw issues on campus, made actual changes, and influenced how the institution interacts with the students. The legacy I want to leave behind is the framework that students voices have always mattered and that there’s power in their voice. 

Would I have done things differently? Not likely, and I’ll tell you why. This year, the college made many hard choices. There were passionate debates in board meetings, and at one point I even asked SGA to write a letter disagreeing with the decision that had been made. It was a challenging year there’s no doubt about it. The best advice I can give someone looking at SGA is to not go in it for the scholarship or the resume addition. Do it to better our student community. You will not win every battle, but you can open the channels for communication between students and the college and hopefully make changes for the better!

The biggest thing I learned in my role as president of SGA was how long it takes for change to take hold. Nothing is instant, so you must plan out your route to the goal. You will also find yourself in a lot of meetings and while some are shorter than others, I would encourage you to attend every single one. I might seem boring, but you are the conduit between the board and the students. You need to hear what is happening so you can explain it to the students. Another thing I learned is that it’s not your job to agree with the students it’s your job to express their views. There were plenty of times I did not agree with student requests, but I knew it was my job to take those ideas to the board for consideration. Never forget it is your job to give the students a voice.

Lastly, work with the people around you, it is a democracy not a dictatorship. Argue, debate, disagree even, but remember that everything that you do is a collaboration with others. This means you must work and communicate with many people, and find compromises to accomplish what you need to. Respect people’s time, moderate the conversations, suggest ideas, and discuss everything that needs to be discussed. That is SGA’s job.

I would say this to anyone looking at SGA, you should not join SGA for you. If you are joining it for you and solely for yourself, you are doing it for all the wrong reasons. Join it because you happen to be the person you think the students need in that moment; because you want to make life better for all students and help them succeed. It is largely a thankless job; it’s stressful and time consuming. In looking back at it, however, maybe I was the person the school and students needed this last year. Do not try to be someone else, just be you and give what you can to those who have entrusted you with power. Represent them and leave proud with what you have accomplished.

I’ll leave you with two final thoughts on the subject the first is a quote from Spider Man, With great power, comes great responsibility.” The second is from Robert Frost, “The woods are lovely dark and deep, and I have miles to go before I can sleep.” I think both fit the idea of what it means to not only be in SGA, but the president of such an important organization on campus.

Ryan L. Desmond
SGA President Fall 2020-Spring 2021

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