This is our time for choosing

In spring of 2013, I ran for Student Government Association (SGA) Senate. As a freshman majoring in political science, winning a senate seat seemed to be destiny. So, I put everything I had into making this a reality. I ran on a platform of positive ideas, on a platform of challenging and changing the status quo to better serve the student body. 

I lost.

I. Hated. Losing. That. Election. Yet, it was the best thing that has happened to me in college.

That sounds counter intuitive. However, that loss set me up with the first pivotal choice of my young adult life. How would I deal with failure?

We all will face this choice in college and in life. No one is perfect, and we should all recognize that truth in our everyday lives and interactions. The question is not if we will face a setback, but when. And when we do, the challenge, as I found out when I lost that ill-fated election, is to choose to bounce back.

When I was able to consciously make this decision, my eyes were opened to a plethora of additional opportunities that interested me. And the path I walked from there turned out to be better for me than if I would’ve won that election.

Why the long anecdote? We attend The Capstone of Higher Education. Opportunities abound, and accomplishment is a mere choice away.

Looking back, I realize now that the choice to put myself out there and run for Senate in the first place was just as important as dealing with defeat. Now in my fourth year on campus, I just want to impress upon my fellow students what I wish freshman me could have known: put yourself out there early and often.

This means getting involved. Expose yourself to possible failure. Go outside your comfort zone. Sure we might be dealing in clichés, but these things ring true. Courage begins with vulnerability. Have pride in what you do and how you do it. And please, care enough to make the choice to be informed about the important things that affect you and your future.

Attend SGA Senate meetings on Thursday nights. Reach out to your senator. Ask questions, give your opinions. Apply for a position through the SGA Committees application later in the fall. Or just visit sga.ua.edu for a few minutes every now and then to see what’s going on. The more informed and involved the student body is, the better the college experience is for all of us and those that come after us.

It may surprise you to learn that most members of the SGA are focusing on essential issues and not mere fluff (I believe this is because the fluff gets more coverage). For example, under the cabinet of Vice President of External Affairs Jonathan Hess, the Second Helping program which provides food for those in need is entering its pilot phase. Director of Programming and Advancement Jordan Forrest is spearheading a major campaign to help combat sexual assault on campus, with the official rollout to begin on September 14. Vice President of Academic Affairs Addison Arnold is hosting a Scholarship Forum tonight, September 14, and working to promote compass.ua.edu to provide better access to scholarships to every student at the University. Vice President of Student Affairs Branden Greenberg is pushing to make college more affordable through a groundbreaking and innovative proposal that would significantly cut down on the bloated cost of textbooks that students have to pay every semester. Executive Vice President Polly Ricketts is connecting the student body with the SGA through “Say Hey, SGA,” which greatly helps students find out about important programs and initiatives like the ones I just listed above and so many more.

The full list of ongoing initiatives is much, much longer, but hopefully you have an idea now of the real work that most members of the SGA do for us. Because we have major issues on campus and it doesn’t seem like they’re getting the attention they necessitate.

Today, let’s pledge to choose to care. That’s not asking much, is it?

Less than half of the student body last year took the two minutes to vote in spring elections on MyBama. One school on campus had seven percent voter turnout. Another had thirteen percent. And so on. A greater percentage of Egyptians voted in their tumultuous presidential election in 2014 than did UA students log onto MyBama for less time than it takes to get a cup of Starbucks coffee (and that’s on a good day). Haiti, which had one of the lowest recorded turnouts for world presidential elections in the past few years in 2011, still had a higher percentage turnout than our graduate and law schools combined.

We can do better and we must do better. What you see on campus is a microcosm of the national political picture. Voter apathy at election time turns into discontent when people feel elected officials aren’t serving their interests.

So, begin today. Make the choice to be informed and participate during the year and vote when election day rolls around.

Decisions are made by those who show up. Show up and show that you care. This is our time for choosing, and the choice is clear.

Sean Ross is a senior majoring in political science. He is the former Deputy Chief of Staff of the Student Government Association.

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