Student leaders and senators, it’s time to gather around for a little tale from a graduating greybeard.
In my time at MSU, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of talented students, as well as a fair share of students that were too busy, arrogant, selfish, tedious, apathetic, rude or delinquent to act like human beings. In fact, I have also been a busy-arrogant-selfish-tedious-apathetic-rude-delinquent (BASTARD) at some point or another. We all have.
But that’s not the point of this fairy tale. The point is that unlike old and near death BASTARDs, we can change our ways. We are young and energetic. We are privileged. We have blue and gold running through our veins. We are Bobcats, dammit. If we can’t turn frogs into princes, I don’t know who will.
As with any fairy tale, a happy ending takes work. Sometimes this work involves evil kings and goblins, but more often it just means doing things with a little more thought and effort. To illustrate this, I’d like to tell you of three challenges for many a student: honoring innovation, managing resources and maintaining partnerships.
Innovation. As college students today, we are inheriting a host of problems — from gigantic national debt to climate change, we have our jobs cut out for us. Fortunately, we also grew up in a time and place that gave us food in our cholera-free bellies, the ability to attend an institution of higher education and the freedom to do with our lives what we choose.
We can choose to sit on the couch and watch reruns of The Office (check), we can choose to cut class to ski (check), hell we can even choose to adopt the played-out philosophies of our parents and grandparents (disappointed check). But as immediately gratifying as that may sound, it is not as rewarding in the long run.
Instead choose to engage with a fellow student to start a club, to be a senator that funds those students, to stay in touch with your friends, parents, professors and mentors. Choose to use the education you are receiving for your own benefit. Choose to use it for your family’s benefit. Or a stranger’s. Choose to use it for something good.
Being innovative means doing these things, but more importantly, it means taking some time to think about what doing good means to you.
Resource Management. If you’re a student senator, it can be tempting to be the farmer with the golden goose instead of the hero. Having that big ol’ budget all to yourself, you might think you are alone in holding back the hordes of greedy students from their own money. To stem the tide, you might turn to fiscal conservatism.
Unfortunately, I (and most other sentient beings) am not quite sure you really understand what that means. Governmental fiscal conservatism isn’t fiscally conservative if you don’t cut taxes. Let me explain it more clearly: If you take the money of 200 people to buy 20 pizzas in order to have a pizza party, and then reserve two of the pizzas for next year, you have not saved any pizzas. You now have stinky moldy cheese rotting in a cupboard somewhere.
I understand that money, unlike cheese, doesn’t go bad when not refrigerated. And that keeping a healthy reserve account is necessary. But taxing without spending is not fiscally conservative. It is fiscally illiterate. And as a student government, taking money from current students requires that those students see the benefit of said money. (Tailgate bacon is not an adequate path to meet all student needs). If you are not willing to consider lowering student fees, stop considering cutting spending.
Spend responsibly and safely, but stop creating chasms for students and student clubs to jump across in order to fund the activities they are passionate about. Your job is to support students, not put them on a tribunal. You are not the council of evil elders, you are the Knights of the Round Table. So shine up your armor, but step off the high white horse.
Partnerships. If you’re a student leader, organizer or friend, choose to collaborate. As brilliant as you are, you can’t operate in an ivory tower of isolation, and neither can your friends. Realizing that the fairy tale of self-absorption must come to an end sometime can be jarring, but just because you aren’t THE hero anymore doesn’t mean you can’t be A hero.
It’s pretty simple. Just be a reliable, responsible, responsive human being, at least most of the time. Taking the time to respond, attend and contribute to whatever project (or friendship) you are working on goes a long way and can change a mediocre idea into an award-winning task force (just look at EWB).
All jokes aside, none of these three challenges are a piece of cake. Creating — and fighting for — new ideas is hard. It’s also not easy to manage a group’s budget. Finally, it’s not always easy to stay engaged with those around you. But putting in effort and thought to confront these challenges can often be the one thing that saves the day from the ever impending doom of BASTARDs.