If Skidmore College were a native territory, then I would have been the mammy queen of student government. I loved student politics and was very passionate about student government as it provided an avenue through which I could ‘have a say’ in policies affecting students. In fact, as a freshman I was both a student senator (Student Government Association) and secretary of the International Student Union, an arrangement which worked well for me at the time. At the end of freshman year, I ran for the office of President of the International Student Union and won. I don’t remember how many of us ran for the position but I do remember being quite thrilled when I emerged winner. My new executive and I had many plans and we couldn’t wait to execute them the following academic year!
Sophomore year started off with a bang! We had just concluded a successful international orientation and were putting final touches on the planned activities for the year when the position of Vice President Academic Affairs (VPAA) in Student Government Association became vacant. Passion must have trumped reason because without giving much thought to the implications of this new position on my personal life/academics, I vied for the position of Vice President and I won. The position – the second highest and most demanding position in Student Government Association – came with a litany of responsibilities in addition to my already existing responsibilities and I was ready. Or so I thought. I was a student with a full academic load of 16 credits, a part time job, President of ISU and VPAA. I was quite the power woman.
It however didn’t take me long to realize it was a tad too much!
I had bitten way more than I could chew and of course swallow. As President of ISU, I had at least two weekly meetings and as VPAA, I sat on about 6 different committees – 5 of which met every week. I chaired Academic Council (a consortium of student representatives from all departments on campus) which met weekly to discuss student concerns/views/opinions, information which I passed on to the all-faculty Committee Of Educational Policy And Planning (CEPP) as one of two student representatives. I sat on the Skidmore Honor Code Commission, was a member of the Student Senate and Executive Committee both of which met weekly. The meetings were endless. I was usually dashing from one class to a meeting to another class… on an empty stomach, not for lack of appetite but for lack of time. On some days, I’d stay up late into the night to finish one homework or another (talk about misplaced priorities!). I was drowning in commitments! Unsurprisingly, my academics – the very reason I was at Skidmore in the first place – suffered.
I had decided to take Micro Economics theory, Macro Economics theory, in addition to statistics – a lethal combination to say the least and one any rational Skidmore student would have advised against. But the superwoman in me would not be deterred. Well… I had an exaggerated notion of my dexterity and I had set out to prove I could do many things concurrently without sacrificing excellence. But who was I kidding?
School (statistics to be specific) was proving to be a hard nut to crack or to put it plainly, school was kicking my butt! Maybe because I dozed off a few times in that statistics class – okay, maybe more than a few times. In my defense though the class was at 8 in the morning. Eight o’ clock! Maths class? Who does that? Sitting in the front row, pen in hand I would trail off to la-la land… ding! The distinct sound of my pen hitting the floor always jolted me back to reality. Even though I acted like the pen drop was an accident, this face of mine could not be saved – sleep and embarrassment were written all over it. Moreover, since statistics requires a lot of practice to fully grasp the concept, I was never short of homework. I had tons of homework – in fact, for my first stats homework I had about a hundred (yes, 100) problems to solve. No kidding! The homework was on a software program that graded the homework as soon as it was handed in. Those stats problems were as much a test of knowledge as they were a test of endurance. Evidently, I was most lacking in endurance, as I would come to learn.
In that semester, I learnt a lot about honor as I did about Microeconomics thanks to my Microeconomics professor, Maeve Powlick, one of the most brilliant minds I’ve ever encountered. A firm believer in the principles of Skidmore’s Honor Code (honesty and integrity), Professor Powlick does not proctor her exams(well at least while I was in her class). Each student is responsible for their work and can take the test wherever was most convenient for them – in their dorm room, in the hall, library etc. as long as they sign the honour code before they exit to take the test. (Interestingly, it didn’t matter where you opted to take the exams because even if you had an open textbook in front of you, you’d still not be able to pass her exams if you hadn’t fully grasped the concept.) With the many demands on my time and little time to study, Prof Powlick challenged me to be a woman of integrity in the face of pressure. And the pressure was on.
I was performing below optimum, below par, at a level far below my potential. At one point I thought about quitting SGA. But. I. Couldn’t. Or rather I wouldn’t. Quitting, for me, was akin to Failing. Silly me! What would people say? I was more worried about what people would say/think than I was about my grades and paid dearly for it. I didn’t make the Dean’s / honors list that semester.
Looking back, I can say that that semester taught me a lot about myself and certainly about life and priorities. Because I was constantly overwhelmed, it was difficult sometimes to fully enjoy the process and that sapped my joy. I came out of that episode of my life with knowledge of how not to take on too many things at a time (it’s okay to say ‘no’ sometimes) – and be humble enough to ask for help when I need it. I also learned a thing or two about leadership and about myself as a leader based on the many mistakes I made. I learned that there are many ways to lead and one of which is that you don’t need a title to lead. To say I regretted the process would be a mistake – I’m glad I made the ‘mistake’ I did at the time I did and for the lessons that have shaped my character today. Now I think carefully before taking on any project and strive for integrity and excellence in all I do. In any case, upon graduation I was awarded the Senior Leadership Award, an award to outstanding student leaders of the graduating class who have consistently contributed to life at Skidmore College. I guess it was not a bad deal after all!
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, where you go. Ecclessiates 9:10
Daughter of the King