To my broken hearted student leaders,

Campaign season sucks. That’s all I have to say about that. We plan and we build an empire from the ground up. Months of preparation, meetings, and long, late nights form a unit so tight knit, we might as well have become a literal family.

Election week is a marathon that never ends. A test of will, determination, and how fast you can yell, “Have you voted yet??” Ped Walkway turns into a battle ground, tents go up and lines are drawn, often through friend groups and other student orgs. It’s a flawed system, but a democracy nonetheless and we subject ourselves to it every year, hoping and praying our team can come out on top.

So when that doesn’t happen, there’s not a worse feeling in the world. Trust me, I know.

Last year my campaign lost. I ran on a team with my best friends. Together... I poured my heart and soul into our mission, our vision, and our little village. Having to look at those 50 or so faces and tell them we couldn’t make it happen - folks that put their faith in us, folks who sacrificed unimaginable amounts of their time and effort for us - I’ve never felt so broken or so bitter.

But I was put in a tough position. My team lost but I won. So here we are, with a split ticket. I’m broken hearted, exhausted, and PISSED, and I’ve got to show up for work the next day, ready to step up with a group of folks I just spent the last 5 months despising.

That may seem like a harsh word but it’s what I felt at the time and how it all started.

A year later, those folks I swore were in it for the wrong reasons, became some of my best friends. They have huge, genuine hearts, I just couldn’t see it through the different colored t-shirts. We had a rocky start for sure, and I won’t lie, building that trust took time and intentional, conscious decisions every. single. day. to see the person not the “party” that I was working with.

I had to get off Twitter. I had to ignore all the noise. I had to swallow my pride. And i had to understand that at the end of the day, it didn’t matter who was in those positions - my one and only goal was simple: to serve students.

And with a mission that clear, it’s pretty hard to argue with it. The incoming Exec saw that and we all learned to rally behind that because we found out we weren’t so different after all.

Behind every campaign is a human being. Someone who had enough passion at some point early on in the year to say, “I’m going to run for student body president!” It’s an incredibly hard and vulnerable thing to do that takes a lot of guts and opens you up to a lot of criticism (And truthfully, a lot of unjust criticism).

It starts with a dream. That dream draws people in, and one by one people follow. I followed Dalton Teel junior year. Xavier Greer, Maya Bian, and all our members shared that dream. We led a movement.

We lost. And life goes on.

Together will forever have my heart. Anytime I see the color purple, I still get chills, and I can’t help but smile when “Nice for What” comes on the radio. We built a true family and I will always take pride in that. But I also take pride in SGA as a whole - the org that gave me that opportunity to make something so special.

I’m thankful for this past SGA exec that had faith in me and was patient with me when I wanted to sulk in my sorrow. I had to make a choice - be mad or be of service. I chose the latter and as soon as I made that attitude change, everything shifted. My job got easier, I started forming relationships with our Exec, and our team flourished. And most surprisingly: my heart slowly healed.

Being on the losing side taught me grace. But as with every great team, diversity is a strength. I truly believe we were a stronger exec and a stronger SGA because of our differences. We respected each other. We chose to leave what happened during elections back in elections. And we chose to move forward. At the end of the day, it’s just that simple - be there for each other.

If I can give any advice to the folks walking through this tough road right now it’s this: don’t give up on us. Don’t give up on SGA and don’t give up on UTK. I promise we all have a lot more in common than you think. The org is more than a senate seat or an exec position. We need passionate student leaders from across the board to buy into the potential SGA has to make change on campus.

But we can only do so if we have YOU. And we can only do so if we work TOGETHER.

I promise the sun will come up tomorrow. Your worth is so much more than an election.

Be proud of the work you did. But also know this is one small piece of your leadership legacy. Now it’s up to you to decide, who am I going to be and what am I going to stand for? Cause Rocky Top still needs work.

So let’s make change not noise. We a better than this. We can all have a hand in making this campus home sweet home, together.

If anyone needs ANYTHING, or would like to talk further, please do not hesitate to reach out to me. I would love to sit down in person, and talk this through.

With love and respect,

Maddie

Maddie Stephens is a senior studying English and the 2018-2019 SGA student services director. She can be reached at msteph44@vols.utk.edu

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.

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