The following is a question and answer session with outgoing SGA President Taylor James. James reflected on her accomplishments as part of SGA, the lessons she learned along the way, and her advice for the incoming administration. The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Compiled by Marcus Dieterle, Associate News Editor
Your presidency is coming to an end. How are you feeling?
It’s definitely bittersweet. I’ve been in SGA as an elected or appointed member for three years and so I feel like I’m losing something that’s become such a big part of me. But at the same time, I’m so proud of myself for everything that I’ve done and I’m really proud of everyone else in SGA as well. And I’m just confident and very hopeful at the same time that they will continue the work that so many people – not just me – but so many other previous administrations have done before them and that they keep in mind that they do have so much to build on. They don’t have to do this on their own and we’re all here to support them. And I hope that even after I leave, they’ll know that they’ll always have me as a resource and that’s something that I’d really enjoy as well because I love being here for them and I love the work that they do.
What has been your biggest accomplishment in SGA/as president?
That’s a hard question because I really don’t like talking about myself. I would say as a personal, completely selfish accomplishment, obviously becoming president was a really big deal. I applied to be a senator my freshman year and I didn’t get it. My sophomore year, I applied to be a director and I didn’t get it, but I got senator instead. So I got to be a senator and then while I was in that position, I helped to create the solicitor general position that we have now. It was my idea, I wrote the resolution for it and then the senate passed it. Then I applied for that position and didn’t get it. And so, as you can imagine, by the end of that I was really discouraged, really frustrated and really didn’t know if there was a place for me here. There was a lot of work that I wanted to do, but just didn’t feel like I wasn’t going to be able to succeed in the space. To be able to overcome those losses and setbacks and then become president, I’m really proud of myself for pushing past that. I like winning and I like being successful, so sometimes like a “no” or a rejection can be really difficult for me to cope with. So to just be able to push through all that and like oftentimes put my pride aside was really big for me.
Last year, as you know, we had this big SGA Takeover and there were students who sat in [then-Interim President Timothy Chandler’s] office and the transformation that I went through along with so many people in SGA through that whole process I think really really has contributed so much to who I am as a leader. To be able to be held accountable so publicly like that, for things that you may or may not have been personally responsible for, is not something that everybody at 20 years old has to go through. As president, that lesson taught me that sometimes I am going to have to take responsibility for things that I may or may not have done and the humility that that experience instilled in me has driven my leadership so much. I think that’s so big for me, leading with humility. That’s why it’s difficult for me to come up with something [she accomplished] as president because there’s nothing this year that I would say is completely my doing, that I completely did. There’s a lot of things that I worked really hard on to support my team and like get them to where they wanted to go. But for me, my personal accomplishments came when I was a senator or even vice president more. And this year was so much about empowering everybody else to do the things that they wanted to do and not really making it about me, just leading with humility and helping to guide them.
What are you proudest of your team for accomplishing?
This year, we had our first Freshman Council. I created Freshman Council last year as vice president when I saw how many students applied for the freshman senate positions and didn’t get it. I thought back to my own experience as a freshman when I didn’t get the position. And I was like ‘these are really talented and qualified students and there’s only five positions for them in the SGA so there has to be another way for us to engage them as leaders and help develop them.’ So we created the Freshman Council at the end of last year, and this year was the first Freshman Council that we’ve had. They’ve been so successful and so productive. They’ve passed resolutions on things like ‘Ban the Bottle.’ They want to get rid of plastic water bottle sales on campus.
Obviously that’s a huge goal, but to see freshmen be that ambitious is really special for me because getting to work with them throughout the year, especially their president, McKenna [Bondura]. She’s been so inspirational to me because as a freshman, through this program, I’ve seen her grow as a leader. In student government, we talk about leadership, service and commitment. A lot of times, a lot of that gets lost in the more clerical, logistical things. We have such a passion for leadership that we can instill in other leaders, so to be able to share that with freshman and then see the things they’re doing next year – they’re becoming Ras and OLs and they’re becoming members on executive boards and some of them are coming to SGA – but I think that made me really proud. I’m leaving, but to see all of them and they’re just getting started, it’s really exciting to know that I had something to do with them having that opportunity to develop as leaders.
Is there anything you wish you would have done differently?
That’s a hard question because I’m really critical of myself and so there’s lots of things that I wish I would’ve had the insight to perhaps approach a little differently. But I feel like everything has happened in the way it was supposed to be. So I guess I would have to say, if there’s anything I could’ve done differently, it’s to be a lot easier on myself and my team at times because I’m really really hard on myself. And so, I always like to make sure I’m pushing myself. If I feel like I’m in the comfort zone, I feel like it’s not good enough and I have to push myself a little bit harder. And I think that sometimes that led me to be so forward thinking to the next thing that I didn’t necessarily sit in what was going on right now and fine tune it and make sure everything was really good. I was always like “let’s push push push to the next goal.” And so I think that’s good because there are some people who need that push, but just understanding earlier on that we all are students and we all are learning in our leadership and it’s going to take time to get there is hard. When you only have a year, you’re trying to crunch it all in so quickly. But I guess I wish I had sat back and smelled the roses a little bit longer because now it’s all over and the year whizzed past me because I was always so busy worrying about the next thing.
What’s your advice for the incoming administration?
It would be first and foremost to lead with humility. These positions can go to your head very quickly and you have a lot of people telling you how great you are and what a great accomplishment this is. And that’s all well and nice, but at the end of the day I view myself as a servant to students. I’ll be on the ground vacuuming or scrubbing down tables. And so, being president or any member of the executive board or any member of the student government doesn’t mean you are somehow now above anyone. It just means that you, more than anyone on campus, has a commitment to serve students regardless of what that looks like or regardless of what that means. You just have to really put your pride to the side at times because sometimes being that servant will mean taking the blame for something that you didn’t necessarily do or fixing a problem that you didn’t necessarily create. If you’re too busy letting your pride get in the way, you’re going to miss the whole point.
What’s next for Taylor James?
I’m a sport management major, but student government has so much shaped my heart for service and community and things like that. I’m still figuring out jobs after school, but I’ve been applying to so many from community outreach jobs to communications jobs to being an admissions counselor. So I had talk with Brandy Hall, who works in Student Activities now and she’s a former SGA president, and she gave me the best advice ever. She’s like “people don’t like to talk about it but it’s okay to not know what you’re doing next.” I think especially coming from this position, it’s terrifying because I’ve had it all together — not really — and I’ve been granted this amazing opportunity and now I’m freaking out because I don’t know what I’m going to do next. But I’m just figuring it out one day at a time. I’m going to graduate, hopefully do some travelling over the summer, and start applying to jobs and everything like that.
Where do you want to travel?
My uncle’s actually in a band, it’s called Vintage Trouble, and so they’re going on tour this summer and so I’m going to hopefully travel with them a little bit. They’re going to the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, France. And then hopefully I’ll come home to a job. That’s the goal. It’s really scary though. I feel like nobody prepares you for job hunting or how crazy it is when you walk across that stage and like “Oh! I don’t have a job!” People aren’t seeking out sport managers and people who want to do communications and stuff like that. I’m not in finance. I’m not in the STEM majors. So it’s kind of hard. But at the same time, I’m really proud of myself — which it took me awhile to get there — but I’m really proud of myself for graduating and doing SGA. I made some really amazing friends here, so I’m really proud of all that stuff. So I’m trying trying to let that soak in for a little while before I worry too much about the next thing.
Do you have a favorite memory of being part of SGA and being at Towson?
Just one? I’d have to say my favorite memory or the most exciting one was winning as vice president because we had this huge ticket. At the end of the year, I was almost for certain not coming back to SGA and then Kurt Anderson, the president at the time, first talked to me about running for president and I was like “no, no, no. I can’t do that.” And then he talked to me about running for vice president. For me, that was the epitome of “if you don’t like something, do something about it.” And I was so discouraged by my personal experience that I was happy that instead of taking the easy way out and leaving the SGA, I came back and shaped it to hopefully be a better experience for some people. Being able to own it and be like “I didn’t like the experience I had so I’m going to shape it. I’m going to make it better and do things differently.” And then just working so hard through campaigning. I mean, those two weeks were the longest weeks of my life. I did not sleep. I had to set reminders on my phone to eat. It was crazy. And to just see at the end that we had won. And we were definitely the underdogs. We were going against pretty much the entire SGA, someone who was already on executive board, somebody who was in a fraternity. And so to come out as winners on top of that, it really did kind of give me the mindset of “wow, I can really do this. If I really put my mind to something, I can really do it.” Like I said, coming from those discouraging first two years of rejection and not getting to where I wanted to be, that was really really powerful and to have all my friends there supporting me and everything like that was really really nice.
What is your vision for Towson?
One of my favorite people at this school is Deb Moriarty, our vice president for student affairs, and she has pushed for students to be the first and most important thing. I don’t think that’s a really popular opinion. I’m sure among students that is and people in student affairs that is, but there’s definitely people who have other opinions about who should be the thing we focus on most at the University. But to see someone lead like Deb has in everything she does — in her decisions, in her actions she puts students first and can still make smart business decisions for the school and still make strategic choices while putting students first is really powerful and I hope that really continues. The reason I chose Towson was Dr. Loeschke, our former president. I remember I was watching a video of her on YouTube after I got accepted. She was like “Congratulations! I’m so proud you. I’m so excited for you. Stop by my office if you want to talk.” To see the president of the University saying things like that is what drew me here and I still truly believe that’s why people come to Towson. You have the opportunity, regardless of who it’s with, to connect with people on a very personal and intimate basis as a student and that’s not something you get everywhere as students.
Any final words?
I guess my biggest thing is I’m so thankful for this opportunity to be in SGA and to be a student here at Towson and it has been everything I wanted and more. I think like most people, when I started looking for colleges, Towson was not the gem at the top of my list. I wanted to get out of the state and go far away. But once I learned about what Towson really had to offer, I was so excited to come here. Since I’ve been here, it’s been so much to me and SGA has been so much to me. It’s really been an honor and a privilege to be a student here and serve as SGA president. I’m just really thankful for everyone: my parents, my friends, my boyfriend, my advisor, everyone like that and even just students who are encouraging me and who voted for me. It’s really a powerful thing to see the type of community that we have here where we do that for each other and I’ve gotten to be that for other people in things that they were doing. I’m just really thankful for all of the experiences I’ve had here and all the people here.