Lots of guys are voted into student government leadership positions because they’re funny and popular, but they have little intention of working hard once they’re there. Meanwhile, people with more substance who would have worked much harder in the job don’t get elected. If you’re the popular guy who won the election, it’s not your fault that enough of the student body voted for superficial humor over substance. But once you have the job, get off your ass and honor the commitment you signed up for.
What does that mean? If you’re elected to student government, it’s your responsibility to represent your constituency: the entire student body. Seek out the people you don’t know well and who aren’t in your social circles and ask them what they’d like from you and the school this year. Ask students and faculty what previous student presidents in the position did well or poorly. Look for ways to bring different people forward and make them more visible in the school.
Don’t make your speeches during assemblies only about how great the school is, don’t make inside jokes that only your friends get, and don’t make fun of any event that you have to announce. Promise to work on things that matter to the whole school as well as students left on the margins and make sure all the students know they can talk to you, especially if they disagree with you. All schools have serious issues that can be effectively addressed by a competent student government. Don’t be a lapdog to anybody.
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It probably won’t bother you too much if you lose to someone you think is capable. But it’s incredibly frustrating if you lose to someone who’s funnier than you but has shown no interest in actually taking the job seriously. Don’t sit there and wallow in anger. Be angry for a few days, but then demonstrate your strength of character by showing that you’re not going to be stopped by one loss.
Plus, other opportunities that may be smaller in scope but more meaningful may come up. It may not be as public as student body president, but look for positions where you can accomplish an agenda you set out.
There really is a silver lining here if you can find one of those smaller positions. As the student body president, you can’t usually call student assemblies, and it can be really challenging to get the entire student community mobilized for a common purpose. As the head of a team, the student newspaper, or a club, it is much easier to accomplish what you want to do.
Unfortunately, you have grown up in a time when you’ve seen student government leaders touted as upstanding and honorable either take the neutral position or outright support their peers who abuse power. It’s also true that the more unquestioned public power a leader has, the more likely he is to sacrifice people’s dignity to maintain his institution’s appearance of greatness. True greatness only comes from having the courage to constantly examine how power and leadership are exercised. Aspire to greatness.
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