“Running for SGA president during the pandemic was something I’ll never forget."
“Running for SGA president during the pandemic was something I’ll never forget. When we left for spring break, it was unclear if we would be returning to campus, and then we quickly realized that when we were able to come back, we would not be coming back in a traditional way.
After spring break, I returned to Valdosta. Students were moving out of their residence halls, and since I was around, I volunteered to help. Everyone was so confused as to why I was still here in the first place, but I explained I couldn’t go home to Florida because my mom was sick.
Prior to the pandemic, I had a job on campus, but when everything closed, it was cancelled. Honestly, it was a really strange and scary time. I’m so thankful to those that helped me secure a temporary remote student assistant placement with the admissions office. Additionally, it put me in a great position for getting to know incoming students and learning about the kinds of things that are important to them. A perfect way, actually, to prepare to be a good SGA president.
My job was to talk with students from all over the country about why they should come to Valdosta State in the middle of a pandemic. I didn't know what the fall was going to look like, but I did know that it would still be Valdosta State, whether it was from home or from, as we all hoped, our beautiful campus. That personal, customized experience for each student is so important to all of us here and although the discussions were all virtual, that individual, one-on-one line of communication kind of brought a sense of normalcy to it.
Virtual was how we did pretty much everything, including SGA elections. It was a very surreal time to be planning a campaign. It was all on social media and on a website. It was extremely nerve-wracking because I couldn't look someone in the eye and have a conversation with them. I couldn’t tell them why I care about them and why I care about this institution. Instead, I had to create graphics and have Instagram Lives with my team in my kitchen.
Nothing was normal about this campaign, but I think what surprised me the most was that we started picking up a following from high school seniors. They weren’t Valdosta State students, but they hoped to be, they wanted to be. They couldn't vote, but they were just excited to be following along. They were reaching out to us personally, asking us questions about what life here was like, what classes are like, what professors they should take, all that stuff. And I think that really is the essence of a V-State Experience.
I was excited to win the campaign, of course, but I was also really excited that everybody else who ran on an executive ticket came back to SGA as senators. When the new freshman arrived on campus, they had a resource, a familiar face, no matter who they were following or supporting. When we helped with moving, which was an experience all in itself, some of them would get out of their cars and be like ‘hey, we know you!’ And that was so weird for me because I hadn't really seen anybody for months.
Our next big event, after move-in, is usually Fall Explosion, when all the students are on the front lawn meeting the different organizations on campus and local organizations. Usually the entire front lawn is packed, but obviously it could not be like that this year, which was kind of disappointing. They ended up separating it into multiple days so Freshman still got to have that traditional experience, just modified. And I think that really sums up this semester, starting off on the right foot by showing students that they still have these opportunities but making adjustments to keep them safe. That’s our top priority.
It's my top priority, even as a student. I genuinely want to keep everybody here safe, not just myself. If we're not doing that, we don’t get to be here, and I think, for the first time, going to school feels like a privilege. For me, going to college after high school was just something you did, you go to college and then eventually you graduate. But this semester, it really felt like we all wanted to be here. Students wanted to go to class, they wanted to have some sort of social interaction, and they wanted to meet new people.
In the past, it could sometimes be difficult to get students to attend things, especially on Fridays. Not anymore. I've seen students lined up, down, and around the Pedestrian Mall to get a T-shirt or to tie dye their mask. For a lot of people, this was their first semester of college and I think they wanted to experience it to the best of their ability because they didn’t know how long they were going to get to be here.
When it got closer to the holidays, there was a lot of COVID fatigue. I know a lot of people were feeling it. They wanted to go out, they wanted to do things, and I really applaud them for not. I think it made a big difference. Because the day that we successfully made it to Thanksgiving break, we were like, oh my gosh, we did it! When I started serving on the COVID Task Force over the summer, I remember that was something we really, really wanted to accomplish.
When we had our holiday event, the Lighting of the Palms this year, it felt different than any other year. It's always a success, it's always fun, it's always festive. But there was a different vibe to it. I think people were just genuinely grateful for the opportunity to celebrate and be together (safely, of course!) There were people who lined up hours before it started because they wanted to attend and they were worried that if it reached a certain amount of people, they wouldn’t get to. It was incredibly important to carry on this tradition. It gave people that extra push to make it through the rest of the semester. And I think it gave people some optimism, especially about coming back in the spring.
Of course, there will be disappointments in the spring because the arrival of January 1st doesn’t mean the virus goes away. I wish it did. We won’t have Spring Break this year and, yes, I’m also super disappointed that I can’t go to the beach or go home for the week, but this is how we keep each other safe. Instead, we have wellness days scheduled into the academic calendar throughout the semester, and I think students are appreciative of that. Overall, the majority of students have been very respectful of the decisions that had to be made this semester and this year.
I think 2020 has shaped us into stronger people. I know it's made me stronger. I know it's helped me build character. We're all just trying to make it through each day. We're all experiencing our first year of whatever we're doing right now because nothing is normal and nobody has done any of this before and that's oddly reassuring.” – Melissa #Georgia