Underclassmen Can Be Campus Leaders, Too

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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.

Senior at Boston College studying English and Political Science. Aspiring journalist. You can find me stubbornly drinking hot coffee in the summer, or you can just find me on Twitter @maura_monaghan.

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