You are the leader you have been looking for

Annabell Liao, senior creative producing major

Dear freshman self,

I remember how hopeful and scared you were to come to college to study film. The stories you saw in movie theaters didn’t reflect your experiences as a woman and as a person of color, so you wanted to do something about it and decided to start by honing your skills to tell the stories you wanted to see. The next four years at a predominantly white institution are going to be filled with unfamiliar waters, but here are some things you will learn along the way.

Have faith in yourself. You were created with just as much wonder and humanity as everyone else. Hang on to your sense of inherent self-worth.

Because the truth is, very few people will have confidence in you. You are going to doubt yourself when you are passed over again and again. You are going to notice patterns in who is listened to and who is respected.

Greater stature is associated with greater financial success and attractiveness, which you know is never going to apply to you. Men are praised for “broad shoulders” and strength, while women are criticized for not smiling just enough. Michelle Obama and Melania Trump are both going to wear sleeveless dresses, but only one of them will be criticized for it and compared to a gorilla. Even when they agree with a bill itself, men still unnecessarily deride a woman of color from their own party.

You shouldn’t dwell on that. You can’t let any of that keep you down. Sometimes it will feel like you are destined for failure, but guess what? You will fail many, many times in life. That’s OK. The key is to get back up and try again. When it feels impossible on your own, it’s OK to ask for help.

Community is what is going to get you through the hard times. It can feel incredibly lonely when it seems like everyone around you is against you. But not everyone is against you, so seek out the people willing to support you and share your burdens. Community makes the load bearable.

Community is also why you will have the social responsibility to speak and take action. Some people will question the point of caring and advocating for social justice. When you recognize that your liberation is bound in everyone else’s, you won’t be able to shake the call to live for more than your own instant gratification. You’ll also learn that it’s possible to care so much you inspire other people to care. Not everyone is given the option for as large of a platform as you will receive, so take those opportunities to amplify and uplift otherwise marginalized voices to support the dignity of all people.

Remember that power is not inherently bad. Anyone that tells you otherwise is intentionally or unintentionally conditioning you to think that you should not take power for yourself, which will result in the perpetuation of the same power dynamics that have existed for centuries as the ones comfortable with power continue to wield it.

It’s OK to throw in your own name for consideration in leadership opportunities. It’s OK to rock the boat and contradict everyone else’s opinion. It’s OK to stand in the spotlight sometimes. When you find yourself waiting for someone to be the change, it is time to step up as the leader you have been looking for.

Forget everyone who says that the other guy looks more presidential when they have 44 presidents of the U.S. informing their leadership aesthetics. Because here I am, your present self, telling you that you have what it takes. You are enough. For a year, you are going to serve as the student body president. By no means will it be easy, but it is going to be the most adventurous chapter of your story yet.

Moving forward, will you still be scared? Absolutely – and excited, unsure and hopeful.
The future is always going to freak you out, but you’re going to be fine. Just enjoy the ride.

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