I barely figured out how to find all academic buildings when I packed up my things and said goodbye to my freshman year dorm. I still thought of seniors as semi-mythical creatures who couldn’t really be that old—legal? And living off campus? I still snuck handles of Fireball through my common room wrapped in old sweatshirts. I had a long road ahead before I would feel in control of my college experience.
Then I arrived to my hometown. It seemed pretty quiet in comparison to the busy, crowded campus that threw a new curveball at me every day.
I got a call that summer from a friend who planned to start a new club at her school. And she wanted me to look into starting a chapter at mine. I answered a swift and unequivocal no. I felt too nervous to order a pizza over the phone until age 15. I was not about to singlehandedly start a campus organization as a sophomore. I almost laughed over the phone.
Instead my friend convinced me to come with her to a conference hosted by the national chapter to learn more about the club and its mission— no commitment necessary.
One day in and they hooked me. This organization represented everything I looked for when I scoured the student org lists during move-in week. But I couldn’t find it, until now. This unique take on a debate club peaked my interest, especially as a double major in English and Political Science.
The student leaders I met at that conference, from schools all over the country, shared my interests and ambitions. It inspired me. Add to that the charismatic friend by my side all weekend, and I found myself believing that I could make this happen. So I decided to give it a shot.
I spent the rest of the summer recruiting all my Poli Sci friends as officers. Then I aggressively emailed my favorite professor until she agreed to be the faculty advisor, and planned out our first semester on campus.
This all seemed fun and exciting. But after I saw the dozens of names on our sign-up sheet at the student involvement fair, I knew my first real test would be the general interest meeting. And despite the mirror pep talk beforehand, and a real passion for the task, I crashed and burned.
About 20 interested students made it to that first meeting. I only needed to do tell them what this club was about with the same fervor and knowledge I expressed when I told my friends.
But my voice cracked and my hands shook when I navigated the PowerPoint. All of my ideas stared at me from the screen, and I couldn’t communicate them to save my life. The meeting only lasted 15 minutes. Only half of the crowd bothered to show up at the next one. I needed a plan, fast.
After a long night in the library, I realized that I needed to delegate. I held all the knowledge and passion, but surely one of my officers could probably communicate better than me (admittedly a low bar).
As far as advertising our events, I needed to trust people more. In the beginning, I tried to handle all the flyers, ads and in-class announcements by myself because I didn’t think anyone else would get our message just right. But plenty of people wanted as dedicated as me—and I needed to let everyone play an equal part.
Five people promoting an event is a lot more effective than one. Together we got about 150 people to attend our last debate. And while I’m not about to teach a public speaking class anytime soon, I can introduce myself at an event before I let the vice president take over mic duty.
I just finished my junior year and my second year as president of this club. Sometimes I still feel as overwhelmed as my freshman year self, and that’s fine. I learned that I can handle most challenges. And when I can’t, I’ve got an awesome team behind me who will help.