Finding My Way

Last month, I took you back to the beginning of my story. Now, we pick up with Chapter 2. As high school wrapped up and I looked forward to the start of college life with a clear plan in mind, it was time to take my fresh start and begin the transition from vision to reality. Could I break my losing streak in student governance, or would I let me old fear get the best of me? The story continues...


            The Holidays were always a special time of year, my personal favorite. As a kid who had spent his entire life up to this point growing up in the same, small town surrounded by a close-knit family, there was nothing better to look forward to than everyone coming back together again. Especially back then. 

          So, on nights when I felt lonely, I'd find a window in the student center and look out at the mid-Hudson bridge. I'd stare out into the darkness and watch the safety lights twinkle above the water. Then I'd turn on a Christmas song and listen to the wind as it kicked up along the water, letting the chill and the sparkle against the dark of the night whisk me away into winter, closer to home.

My first photo on the Marist campus, back in 2009.

My first photo on the Marist campus, back in 2009.

          I came to Marist with a mission in mind, having made a promise to myself earlier that Spring to take advantage of the opportunity I now had before me. I was done with being the quiet kid. I was finished with sitting life out in the corner. By the time graduation rolled around, I told myself, the President of the college would want to shake my hand.

          And yet, despite all the ambition that had swelled my perspective, I still felt like that same, shy kid from Jersey. My transition to campus life did not unfold as smoothly as I would have liked. It was slow, clumsy, and awkward. Fortunately, I wasn't alone. I was one among many students from all over the country (and some corners of the world) who suddenly found themselves together on a relatively cozy campus beside the Hudson. Our new pond was filled with fish of various sizes as the high-achievers, all-start athletes, valedictorians, wanna-be's, wallflowers, and everyone else in between struggled to find where they best fit in this new community. We were all looking for our place, our niche. 

          I didn't have to look around all that long, though, before I figured precisely where I wanted to be. From the day I first saw the Student Body President speak, I knew that I wanted to be a part of Marist's Student Government Association. I had taken the time over the summer to read all that I could about the organization, and tried to get my hands on all the information that I could find surrounding the Freshman class elections that Fall. I even sent an E-mail to the Elections Commissioner. Her response, though polite and professional, carried a tone of "Calm down, we'll cross that bridge in the Fall."

          But I couldn't wait. The S.G.A. was more than a club, more than a chance to build a resume; To me, it was the doorway to becoming the person I wanted to be—to finally being seen the way I wanted people to see me.

          So, I counted down the days with eager anticipation. Move-in passed in a blur, our classes kicked off and whirred into a frenzy; time marched on in a quick, but steady pace until, suddenly, there we were. 

          I was among seven or eight other students running for Class Vice President. Another ten or so were vying for the Presidency. As you moved further along the cabinet, however, the contests became less heated. Two or three would square off for Class Secretary, Treasurer, and/or Historian. Most of us who came out to join the elections process wanted to be involved in our class to some degree. For the folks aiming for those top two spots, however, many of our sights were set on reaching out to the entire campus community.

          Having never successfully held a student government position in high school, I knew from day one that I wouldn't have a shot at the presidency. Sure enough, the growing roster of presidential candidates was filled with past SGA leaders who had carved out records of their own in high school. Among them, my freshman roommate, was already an elected member of his local Board of Education. Damn.

          So I set my sights on the next rung in the ladder, the Number 2 seat. I figured I could make a pretty strong case for trusting the position to an entry-level candidate with an eagerness to learn more about S.G.A. and serve his community. I planned on treating the position as a learning opportunity, to serve my class and build a spirit of community while learning all that I could about the campus-wide organization. In time, I hoped I could climb the ladder and seek out the top office for myself. One day, I told my fellow freshmen as I introduced myself throughout the campaign, I was going to run for the Office of Student Body President.

          Still, I had to clear first base before I could even think about running towards home plate. I dove into the election process with vigor and knew that, with my developing skill-set, speech night would be my time to shine.

"I have a dream for the class of 2013."

I bellowed once as I crossed the length of the stage moments after my name was called.

"I have a dream for the class of 2013!"

I called once more, with force, as I passed over the crowd to take my place behind the podium.

"And it starts right now..."

          After spending most of my academic career caught up by a tremendous fear of public speaking, I had finally reached a point where I wasn't just comfortable with expressing myself through spoken word, but I could use what I had written as an extension of my own personality. Through tone and inflection, I was getting better at reaching into the audience to convey my view, my emotion, my will. I wrapped up my speech to a solid applause, and waited for the race to close in the week ahead.

          On the day the announcement was to be made, we all gathered in the alcoves across from the S.G.A. office. Social media was somewhat new to the organization, and the results were shared the old fashioned way. Like a casting call posted after an emotional round of auditions, the Student Body President and Executive Vice President popped out of the S.G.A. office to post a single sheet of white paper on the doorway. After a moment of hesitation, the crowd closed around them; each person reaching out in the hopes that their name would appear among the chosen few on that list.

          As I made my way to the front of the crowd, I watched my peers break off on diverging paths. On the one side, gleeful attendees whipped out their phones to share news of their victory with friends and loved ones. On the other, I watched the blank expressions of once vibrant and energetic challengers slink away as the bright visions they held for themselves suddenly faded. Even before I reached the front of the group, I knew that my name would not be on that list.

          Sure enough, that little voice in my head had been right. I did not win my race for Class Vice President. And yet, I sensed that even this internal nay-sayer was getting tired of being right. My own insecurities were hoping for a turn around.

          That's when another door opened (both literally and figuratively). The Student Body President had come back out of the office with a fresh stack of papers in hand. After congratulating us all on races well run, he announced a new undertaking by his administration, the "Junior Senate". As an ad-hoc committee subject to his appointment, the Administration was looking for freshmen students interested in shadowing members of the Student Senate to learn more about the organization and potentially seek office in the Spring elections. 

          It was perfect. It was fate. It was my shot, and I was going to be damned if I was going to let the weight of my loss keep me from reaching for it. Sure enough, it was this secondary opportunity that turned out to be the most impactful. The Student Body President had gotten a big kick out of my speech during the race, and kept me in mind when he compiled his roster of Junior Senate candidates. Just a few days after my interview, I received word that I was officially part of the S.G.A. I was quite literally starting from the bottom, in a position akin to "S.G.A. intern", but I didn't care. I was there, finally, in the room where it all happens. 

My foot was in the door, and heaven itself couldn't pry me from that spot.

The start of the #MSL dream team: Before Britt & I branched off on our own paths through student leadership at Marist, we each got our start in the Junior Senate.

The start of the #MSL dream team: Before Britt & I branched off on our own paths through student leadership at Marist, we each got our start in the Junior Senate.

The adventure has only just begun. Stay tuned into #MikesCampaign for future chapters!