In my sophomore year of college, I was thrust very abruptly into the top position in an academic organization for my bachelor’s degree without any experience, true active participation, or idea on the bureaucracy of the office I was about to hold. I was elected to be the guy with all the papers and pictures. It wasn’t long before, barely days into office, the honcho-elect did not fit any of the minimum requirements for the job, and none of the preceeding officers wanted the position. Next thing I knew, I was suddenly president of a student society.
It didn’t go smoothly. The society was under three umbrella organizations, subject to the dean and the student affairs director at the same time, and was recently just beginning the transition from an incredibly succesful 2-term president. We had no idea who to follow in retrospect, so we followed them all. The pressure was on, and I had to do what the outgoing president told me to do: serve the studentry.
At first, there were a lot more freedoms than I had expected. Funding was secure, thanks largely to the college government, and activities were planned. A few scrupples, a lot of disagreements, and regulations didn’t stop our activities. At least for the first semester. We succeeded in keeping our name on top of both literary-musical contests and sports.
Then, of course, I met two really big hurdles. It was Christmas, and we tried to hold a party. Most of the students went home, since they lived in the provinces. We couldn’t do it with the faculty because they had their own party with the school administration. It was the first time I met problems with money. Totally unbalanced. We had fun, the paltry few who came, but ultimately we were the only ones who did.
Until that time, paperwork wasn’t hard to handle, and frequent visits to the faculty office in search of our department head gave professors quite an impression, and we decided to stage a grandoise plan: invite a really famous (expensive) speaker to talk about a controversial issue. The liberal academics vice president of the university agreed. The bishop, however, refused. Our plans were smack in the middle of preparations phase, meaning we already spent money. Students were already taking it out on us. Our solution: make-your-own-pizza activity. It wasn’t a popular decision, but at least they had fun making and eating their own pizzas.
I realized, at one point, that I can’t give the students everything they wanted from us. Somewhere along the road, there were walls. We could jump over them, and sometimes we just bump straight into it. Either we get the wall to make way, or the wall stays put. And most of the time, the wall stays put. And when the wall stays put, well, let’s just say my fellow officers and I go back to the starting line and put ice on our heads.
That point in time, my organization was under the college government, the university government, and a federation of organizations within the school, and my fellow officers and I noticed something: a. the college government can’t move because they were too restrained; b. the university government was actually fighting for their plans; c. the federation was asserting sovereignty over students the university government is handling. It was a fiasco; power struggle and power restraint was keeping it all together and tearing it apart at the same time.
The promise: speak for the students, because we are the students. The goal: get the university to listen, actually listen, to us. The plan: restore democracy inside the student governments. The director took care of the power struggle; he placed the organizations back to the college governments. So the only thing to do now is to set the college governments free and dominate the university government in order to proceed with a uni-wide revolution of student participation. I ended up doing the one thing I didn’t imagine doing in college, partly because I was already tired with the position I’m handling: I entered politics.
I met amazing people. Never before in my life did I realize that there were more than two pairs of people with the same name. I met someone who I had an immediate crush on (which has, by now, faded), and I had an immense opportunity to mingle with the ruling party, whose efforts in the university government I admired. After the disastrous government during my freshmen year, it was refreshing and uplifting to see them work so hard to gain back student trust. I decided to tag along.
I had a naive vision. It was simple enough as “Keep them active, keep them happy”. Of course referring to the students. Give them what they need, fight for what they want. Student politics was a very new concept to me. Being in a Catholic school, it also meant being Christ-like. Christ-like leadership. It was a dream. Then, during the pre-election seminar for candidates, the speaker, a professor I very much admire for her profound intelligence, said “The world is an atheist, and so is leadership.” That took me off my mark. Didn’t stop trying, though.
Student politics became as dirty as real politics, and even more personal. I remembered in elementary when the worse thing other candidates could ever say was “Vote Wisely”. It was a double entendre. Voting for them is voting wisely; one way of seeing it. You’d be stupid if you vote for the other party; that’s the other way. That’s already the harshest thing you can hear in elementary and high school elections. It rarely gets dirty.
Imagine the sense of disappointment, and subsequent sadness, when I realize that one of the officers I was with in the society was running against me, with a self-styled reason to “teach you a lesson: never be complacent”, along with another officer who, admittedly much wiser than the first guy, was opposing my running mate simply because she broke his heart (or the other way around, I don’t know; I regularly corresponded with him and that’s how I understand it). Until then, no one else was running for the position I ran for, and I had a lot of support from friends (I think so) and faculty (some gave me food). So he ran to teach me never be complacent, when he had no idea I was preparing for the worst possible opposing candidate. The sense of respect I had for him has never been the same.
Politics got very dirty indeed. The emblem team (the one my opponent ran for) was steadily gaining ground, and the fist team hot in pursuit. Red team was not participating that year (at least I think they’re red, I don’t know their official color). Most colleges had only one candidate for the governatorial seat; ours was one of the three who had opposing candidates. There was an independent for the presidency, and revelations about anomalies came out like wildfire, all sides pointing to one another. There was betrayal, mudslinging, the occassional rumors, and internal dissatisfaction. The worst thing you can be called in a real government is “corrupt, murdering, untrustworthy bastard”. The worst thing you were called in this election was identical, minus the muder. I wasn’t spared from the drama. The drama mostly wasn’t even business, it was personal. It was the dirtiest thing I’ve seen.
Election night came, and both teams were actually quite friendly, at least as far as you can see. Admittedly both sides were on even footing; I wasn’t quite sure I’d win. Even then, declaration was heated. I won by 3 points, and my opponent’s running mate won by a landslide; I was waiting for a recount request from the other side, and they didn’t. One of our candidates had lost by a single point, which hurt a lot. The news that the yellow had senate majority was welcome, however one thing came as an expected surprise: the independent won the presidency. Needless to say, he’s doing his best as the currently leader, and so far so good.
It was one of the most eye-opening moments of my life. The city mayor once metioned, and still reiterates that the school I’m in catapulted his career in politics. Now I know how. They said my school was a training ground, practically a virtual simulation of politics and governance out in the real state where anything could happen. They have completely no idea just how accurate they were. Elections proved that.
After elecitons my opponent approached me. We exchanged witter banter like the good friends we were, shared a few laughs, talked about how best to end the semester. My enmity grew when he said “I hope you learned your lesson this year.” Frankly speaking, when he said that, I swear I entered that almost cartoonish phase of imagine for a fraction of a second an extremely complex scenario where I kick his butt. I contented myself with an eye-roll (apparently unseen), and said, “Yeah, I did.” Didn’t say thanks, though.
That said and done, it was official. On June 1, 2011, I was to become the governor of our college.
The outgoing governor was one of the people I looked up to. She was strong-willed, had a deep sense of service, and was totally committed to the studentry, often to the expense of her own health. We rubbed elbows often, and she gave me one piece of advice. “Good luck.” From what I’ve seen her do and couldn’t do (not didn’t, couldn’t; there’s a difference), I knew I needed it.
I chose two male advisers. They were strong. My new vice governor and I chose the rest of the team, alongside two elected officers. We added a law graduate and an very experienced professor from my home department to the roster of advisers; unfortunately the law graduate refused. We set up a dream team, giving back positions to departments with the expertise. All we did then was wait for the new organization heads.
I once promised the outgoing president of the society I’d stay two terms if I could; I never imagined I wouldn’t be able to do that. Of course I asked before I ran for office, but I couldn’t help but feel sad. With no election until after classes start, I couldn’t leave a gap between leaders. I appointed a replacement until the next organizational election. Of course he won.
Our first meeting was a success, at least in terms of the meeting. Our plans were being formed, and we couldn’t wait to give it our all. It was a dream year.
That dream came crashing down from day 0. Literally.
We haven’t even assumed our positions yet when our freedom was limited. In the past, our activities were unrestrained as to the scheduling. Admin didn’t like that so much. They put it all on a single day, and it wasn’t even the whole day; it was from late afternoon, mind you. So the colleges, not to mention the countless societies and organizations, fraternities, and others had to compete for limited venues on that single day. The dilema for the colleges is that freshmen can’t be touched on weekends; they had a government-mandated course. There it is, then. What it meant for us in my college is that our plans of a 3-day talent event, 2-day general assembly and orientation, and 3-day sportsfest were certainly out fo the question. Whole-day events were also intolerable, although we could start a bit early for so long as a vice president approved. That was a damper.
The overwhelming support from the top began to dwindle, as more and more requirements were piled up under the pretense of “making it easy for you”. How easy it intended to be, I do not know, because it was increasingly more difficult as time passed. Environmental regulations, bureaucracy, immense amount of paperwork, delays, requirements, and practically professional conditions made three things essential to us quite unavailabe: time, money, sleep. Because we had to do a lot of things, we had to sacrifice study time, something we weren’t supposed to sacrifice. Because there was too much to do, funding was often delayed. Because before anything else we were students, we had to erase some sleep just to catch up. Staggering amount of pressure, stress, and tension eventually lead to a lack of enthusiasm. One of us actually preferred to be part of the team in name only, while working for someone else. The reason? “I don’t know what’s going on in there anymore.” Great news, pal. Neither do we.
When support does come, however, it’s only in desparation. We turn to the university government for help only as a last resort. Where the government cannot help, the journalists come in. They have been essential to our survival; without them, the college government under me would have certainly collapsed due to a “government shutdown”. Seriously. At times, our dean would help out personally. But of course, that help comes in only when the need is so extreme, it’s almost a sin not to compell oneself to action.
Way back into my society presidency, I already knew that the only thing that would move students would be grades. Basically I had a very passive studentry at my hands. With all the achievement’s we’ve had this semester, I can’t really complain; except that those achievements were made by the same people. Over and over and over again. I love them, but I wish the others had the same drive.
Our last minute decisions came as mixed blessings. We won some, we lost some, but often at the expense of student opinion. Basically, what we did and did not do upsets them, and often the only thing they do is be passive when we need them, and complain. One even anonymously wrote us three stunningly beautiful essays about how justice is seriously miscarried around us, apparently not aware that he/she complained without realizing that that’s about the only thing he/she did the entire semester to us. It’s be nice for some cooperation, but hey, can’t ask for what they don’t wanna give.
Apparently, no matter how hard you try to please them, the more effort you give, the more hurdles you meet, and the less they understand that you are not the supreme commander. We have bosses, too; we have problems, too. We can’t always get approval; we can’t always solve them immediately.
Also apparently, your neutrality is based on the nonexistence of your friends; if you have friends, you’re being “biased”. What is supposed to be a normal conversation and a few laughs is suddenly preferrential treatment, because they’re also students. Misquotations turn into ridiculous amounts of bad press. Althought the forefront of being a student leader is leadership, your power is still based on popularity despite the lack of friends; you need to please everyone.
Also apparently, you and your entire team are the League of Extraordinary Ladies and Gentlemen. You’re supposed to do everything. You need to meet their demands or pay the price. Unpopularity is relative, but hostility can cost you more than just your position.
Also apparently, you and your entire team need to spend less time with the faculty. Forget about the fact that they were your professors in various subjects. Forget about the fact that where you work is where they work. Forget about the fact that they are no longer your professors and you are now grood friends. Students mostly expect you to be completely neutral at best, and hostile at worst. Very few realize that without their extensive help, often at their own monetary expense, a lot of the things they wanted so much to achieve, especially recognition, would not be possible.
Over the past months, my team and I needed to please our real bosses (the students), and our actual bosses (the administration). Looking at the middle is often disastrous, and insisting much more damaging. Pleasing both sides is difficult, and it leads only to question just how much power as a student leader you actually have. You have none. Nada. Zip. Zero.
Pleasing the students is already hard enough, but you have to do it while conforming to what the adults want. There’s more “you can’t” than “you can” when you talk to them, and when they talk about what you can’t do, they tell you in a way that’s so euphimistic, you know they don’t want to say it out loud for fear of being called dictator. As much as I want to liberate my team from the now-seemingly infinite restrictions and requirements, I can’t. Not if there’s “paper”.
The expectation for transparency also has no equal. They do not realize that we are not professionals, neither do we have any prior experience about anything they asked us to do. We had ideas, but we weren’t trained, neither were we familiar with the protocol. Leeway is appreciated, but apparently not honored. You had to do it or face the consequences.
There’s also personal expectation. Between academics, contests, seminars, activities, events, programs, and responsibilities, you don’t know which way to turn. There’s a lot of expectation on me to excell academically, to be a great leader, to win awards and contests, to organize great events; all of which they think I can do in a blink of an eye. I haven’t had a real weekend in months.
It saps away so much energy. You know it’s worth it. It really is. I love my job. I just hate they way it is. It’s not the job I love anymore. But I need to see it through. I need to finish it.
Today I face so much paperwork, it hurts. It needs to be flawless. My team and I are working endlessly, and the only end in sight is still a dark tunnel.
Admittedly none of my team are not rethinking their decision right now. As much as you want it over with, it’s not. The perception of ease is a figment of imagination. Popularity is nigh; it’s futile and just adds to tension. Activism has died along with dictatorship in the national level; you expect enthusiasm, you get passivity along with enourmous amounts of complaints. You wish to serve your constituents, you need to serve the honchos. It’s not equating to leadership anymore. It’s more of how to keep everyone happy, or at least content, without cracking down. Add that to the scores of “volunteers” who suddenly disappear or realign themselves. As early as right now, election plans are again floating in the air; loyalty is paramount, although tensions are escalating again.
I am a student leader.
I am proud that I am one.
I am still in the service.
As to why I chose to be, I remember why.
As to why I am proud, we have done a great many things.
As to why I still serve, I still want to.
But my reason is slowly being disillusioned.
My pride, easily erased by the passivity of those I serve.
My service, in question as to who I should serve.
I am a student leader.
I am, above that, a student.
I am, more than that, a servant.
I am, greater than anything else,
God give me strength.