What I’ve learned as UMSU president

To be a good leader is to be constantly learning

It’s funny, it seems that almost every week at least one person will ask me, “what is the most valuable thing you’ve learned as UMSU president?”

There are many things I have learned, all of which are invaluable, and I will forever be grateful for learning them.

I learned that true leadership means supporting those around you. Some of us look for opportunities to be the big boss, and some of us like to play a supporting role. The fault comes when we stop making sure that our decisions support those around us.

The truth is, we all make mistakes. At the end of the day, no one can ever be a perfect leader. It is impossible. All you can do is give every bit of yourself and try to lead with grace.

The second thing I’ve learned is that leaders need to listen. With hundreds of emails, thousands of questions and so many goals for yourself and your team to accomplish, you simply cannot please everyone. There are tens of thousands of students who are a part of this union, all with different backgrounds, different lived experiences and different expectations of what UMSU ought to be.

While we cannot please everyone, that doesn’t mean we can’t try. I have learned to listen to the perspectives of students around me, and to work to support them to the best of my ability. In my office, I have two signs that say “remember why you started” to remind me of why I am here. I think that UMSU, as well as every other well-intentioned student union or association in the country, was founded and operates based on good intentions.

Unfortunately, in student governance, I feel that we sometimes lose our way. We forget that we are all supposed to be on the same team. Remember, when mistakes happen, each student leader, whether they are president of the union or the executive of a club, is trying their best.

If you forget your kindness, humanity or humility, you have done a disservice to those around you.

Remember, be kind. Some people may not like you. They may disagree with what you have done, dislike your personality or, potentially, the organization you work within. Just know that if students elect you to be an UMSU executive, or to hold any position in student governance, you need to stay true to yourself.

A newspaper or email blast does not define the seemingly infinite number of hours you have put into your role. If you try your best and work hard for those around you, you’ll do just fine. We are all on the same team. We all want what is best for students, and any student facing publication or organization must understand that.

The last thing I’ve learned is that I also need to be kind to myself. We all have emotions — we feel sadness, anger, frustration and everything else. You need to know that it is okay to feel overwhelmed. It is okay to feel upset when the UM Reddit or any media outlet tells you that you are doing a bad job but only knows half of the story.

Take time for your mental health. Being a student leader is hard, so be kind to yourself. And know that transparency about how hard this job is does not make you weak. Rather, it shows your willingness to be open and honest with students. After all, that is what they elect you to do.

In the end, I, just like every one of my predecessors, could write a book on everything I have learned from this office.

I recognize that there will always be things that I could have done better and things that I wish I would have done differently, but I believe we have accomplished some fantastic things this year.

When I began in this position, I wasn’t a professional or an experienced leader. I was a student. I spent every single day learning about what I could do better, which things were broken, which things needed help and how I could be the best leader I could be.

In the end, regardless of the headlines, the Reddit threads or whatever else you may see, my team and I worked tirelessly this year and I am proud of what we have accomplished.

If you choose to run for UMSU, just know that the work you will do, the work that we all do, matters. We want to see a world that is better than it was when we joined. Keep that close to your heart. Listen to the voices around you, and never forget why you started.

They never tell you about the end of the line and they never talk about the stress it takes to get there, but take it from me, every moment of doubt I’ve ever had about this job has been brief. I am continually amazed by the dedication of those around me.

I loved being your president. This has been the most incredible honour of my life, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. I truly hope that I have made you proud. That’s all I have wanted from day one, to show you that your vote mattered. It will always matter. Remember, whatever you do, be kind.

Humbly, and with great pride,

Jaron Rykiss, your UMSU president