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Former SGA president: 'The position ought to be held to a high standard'

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Daniel Pae

Former Student Government Association president Daniel Pae speaks at the class of 2020 convocation, Aug. 18, 2016.

Last week, when I received the Carl Albert Award, I reflected on the memories I have accumulated through the most important leadership position of my college career: SGA president.

My parents deserve most, if not all, of the credit for how I governed during my time in office. My mom taught me about the importance of listening to others and expecting the unexpected. My dad taught me that an effective leader delegates tasks and works together with other people to achieve common objectives.

Because of my parents’ unconditional love and encouragement, I always did my best to be a servant leader — someone who put the interests of other students over his or her own interest.

Throughout the entire journey, I became more confident every day that SGA can make tangible, substantial progress for the student body.

In my opinion, the SGA president plays a crucial role in setting the agenda and identifying the direction for OU’s student government.

That’s why the position ought to be held to a high standard.

The position of SGA president is not another line on one’s resume, a part-time job or a networking tool — it is a position of public service.

It is about more than just giving speeches and interviews — most of the duties, responsibilities and obligations that the SGA president must fulfill occur behind the scenes, when no one is watching and when there are no cameras. 

Anyone who believes that the most significant aspects of this position are the prestige, attention and stipend has a naively limited, seriously misguided and fundamentally wrong definition of public service. 

Though serving as SGA president is a challenging and demanding opportunity, every individual who serves in this position takes an oath to commit his or her full energy, ideas and passion toward improving and enhancing campus life for the student body.

The SGA president should honor his or her campaign pledges, as well as the deadlines for various meetings, appointments and budgets. The latter items are not suggestions — they are requirements articulated through the SGA Code Annotated, which is the governing document that contains all of SGA’s general and permanent laws.

He or she should be receptive to constructive feedback to become a better, more perceptive leader. Asking for help and asking questions are signs of strength, not weakness. Having an open mind about how to approach solving complex issues is an indicator of a thoughtful, pragmatic leader. 

One should not pretend that he or she knows everything and is right all the time.

Humility is a vital leadership characteristic. Sometimes, it is necessary for the SGA president to engage in active listening instead of dominating the conversation. The fact that an individual talks a lot doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she is saying anything valuable.

The overall evaluation of a whether a SGA president had a successful tenure in office is not defined by how many "likes" one receives on social media but rather by how many students he or she was able to help feel more connected with this university’s opportunities.

Of course, due to the extraordinarily rigorous nature of being SGA president, there is a significant amount of required sacrifice. Since nobody is perfect, we should ask that any individual serving as SGA president does his or her absolute best to serve students. If he or she does make a mistake, he or she must learn from it and move forward with a positive attitude.

The SGA president has many responsibilities, but so do students, who should be active participants, not spectators, in the democratic process.

As students, we should think critically about whom we elected as SGA president and hold the individual accountable for his or her words and actions.

We should also encourage a free and independent press that constantly tracks new developments, asks insightful questions, and reports on relevant, impactful stories related to the state of SGA.

This is the kind of responsibility I hope I encouraged among students when I served as SGA president, and it is the same type of responsibility that applies to students when it comes to all SGA presidents — past, present and future.

Daniel Pae is an economics and political science senior, former SGA president and guest columnist for The Daily.

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