Meet Seventh Year Senior, my university-locked opinion column. After six years, I decided to up the ante to write my own column from scratch. No GroupMe, no Chegg, but this time I can’t wait until the last minute to submit. All leading up to eventually taking on one of UT’s biggest challenges: getting students to care about newspapers.
What will you leave behind? It’s normal, healthy even, to think about your role in the grand scheme of life. Will you leave your campus and community a better place than when you started, or will you rely on others’ momentum to push you through school without adding your own energy into the system?
There are so many ways to make your mark that it can be overwhelming, but most change comes when you pool your efforts with other students through the University’s vibrant student organization infrastructure.
Let’s talk about bettering campus as a whole (or rather, not focusing on the entire campus), the animal magnetism of student clubs and how to get the best ROI from them, and let’s really look in-depth at who exactly should be running and participating in these undertakings.
Bad news first. If you’re trying to change the entire 30,000 student and $2 billion per year University of Tennessee, you are going to fail. Believe it or not, the university administration and particularly the Chancellor’s cabinet are doing tremendous and wonderful work that has thrust UT into the top tier of public institutions.
Despite heavy media coverage of recent events of bias and sexual misconduct, these events have been handled in such a way that UT still earns the top rating from independent watchdogs like FIRE. Experts are already helping our campus, and running it to near perfection given current circumstances.
There’s literally no chance that you can understand the massive organism that is UTK in four years, how can a second- or third-year student make an impact on something they can’t understand?
My solution: focus on your department or office. The SGA is the epitome of this problem; they try to make demands on behalf of the entire student body, and the result is that the average student hasn’t heard of anything they’ve done or simply doesn’t care about the oft-empty “legislation” they pass.
If you take a step back from the whole landscape and try really focusing on a single piece of the puzzle, you can literally change lives on the scale of hundreds or thousands.
If you don’t like your department, then choose an office on campus that you’re passionate about like the Pride Center or one of the many religious foundations on campus. If you can change just one person’s life, you have no idea how much weight your actions can carry throughout their lifetime.
As I’ve hinted at, student organizations are the streamlined way to get your project or cause official recognition and support from the administration. You can make your mark through academic or even social clubs, and you’ll gain some resume-worthy experience while doing it.
Some of the best possible experience comes when you create your own organization and get a project running from scratch, but make sure that your niche isn’t already filled or you risk the chance of stepping on some toes (you’re on the same team, after all). There are two primary characteristics to successful organizations: leadership and volunteering.
Leadership is a word that really scares some people, but let’s take a step back and really look at what it entails. First of all, research has proven that randomly selected leaders correlate to better group performance; really let the implications of this study sink in (ex. Mr./Ms. outgoing-overconfident are not the best for the job, and even the quietest and least experienced person has a real chance at producing a positive outcome).
Secondly, college is a unique environment where you have the perfect chance to practice leadership without the risk of costing your company hundreds of thousands of dollars or putting lives in danger. You aren’t committing to a lifelong career of leading, but rather, you’re making sure that you have a well-rounded resume that means you can better understand how your entire team works when you finally land your dream job. Talk about employability.
And finally, leadership doesn’t always mean that you’re the all-team leader/president/authority on a project. Leadership is as simple as being a consistent member, making it to every meeting, asking if there’s anything you can do and setting a higher bar for the other members in your club. This alone can be the difference between a club’s dynasty and its downfall.
Volunteering is second only to leadership, only because without leadership you can’t volunteer.
Academic clubs: go to the most underserved high schools in the Knoxville community, and go often. You will make connections, and more importantly you will make a real difference in a kid’s life that would otherwise not receive that attention.
Social clubs: get out and help the underserved. You spend the entire year celebrating and enjoying your hobby, but if you spend even 2% of that energy on those in need, you’ll be making your mark where it needs it the most
Okay, so you’re starting to get an idea of what making your mark means and how to do it. But who should be ambitious or hubristic enough to really believe that they can make any sort of impact?
Everyone. Especially you. The only thing you need is consistency with a dash of confidence (genuine or faked, it’s a skill, not an innate characteristic), and if you’re not at college to learn consistency and confidence then why the hell are you here exactly?
Consistency is key, not cliché. So many officers are elected that put in under 10 hours of work the entire semester, and their club would oftentimes be better if the position simply wasn’t filled because the flaking member gives other executives a false sense of the amount of work that needs to be done.
Under opposite conditions, a committed freshman can easily become member of the year and set themselves up for a well-earned position of authority and pathos during their remaining time in school, solely through consistency.
Confidence is also important, but not exactly the bread or butter of success. In fact, overconfidence and unchecked ambition can lead to overload, which can lead to the flakiness described above.
Not everyone has the time to be an executive, and almost every esteemed project leader will tell you that their grades suffered due to the commitment of a large-scale project. It’s a balancing game, and again, college is the best place to learn how this works.
Learn from my mistake. Instead of demanding something grandiose like an SGA election or award-winning events packed with hundreds of people, try to focus on the community around you. Reaching out to those in need can profoundly change their trajectory through life and yours during this time of great change and uncertainty known as college.
A James S. A. Corey quote from “Tiamat’s Wrath” comes to mind: “The huge moments in life seemed like they should have more ceremony and effects. The important words — the life-changing ones — should echo a little. But they didn’t. They sounded just like everything else.”
You won’t know what your formative experiences were until they’ve long since passed. Perhaps you’ll be able to point towards a simple interest meeting as the moment you felt purpose and what propelled you through university and into your career.
It’s so much easier to see that, yeah, getting addicted to crack would probably ruin your life, but will creating your own club change the direction of your career and help fulfill your dreams? If everyone could see the potential outcomes of a promising and positive situation, we’d all be Elon Musks.
Understanding that, you have to, have to, have to treat every opportunity with respect. If you don’t think you can handle it, then maybe you should critically evaluate your life, your day-to-day schedule, even the friends you associate with — because I assure you that any student at the University of Tennessee is capable of changing the world.
Grayson Hawkins is a seventh-year senior studying Mechanical Engineering. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Columns and letters of The Daily Beacon are the views of the individual and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Beacon or the Beacon's editorial staff.