It has truly been a rollercoaster, a ride to remember and cherish, to reflect on and to learn from. I sit here at Rooster’s, reflecting on what I perceive to be two of the best, longest, most difficult, and inspiring years of my life. If these were my last words at CUSA, what should I say? What could I share with you that would ring true and be profoundly meaningful? Here’s to you – the students.
Farewell – It’s truly been an honour.
I write this letter as a farewell, a thank you, and a chance to share with our up and coming student leaders a few of the lessons I’ve learned during my time. Serving the students as the President of the Carleton University Students’ Association over the last two years has been truly remarkable.
First and foremost, I give thanks to the students of Carleton, for faith in giving me the opportunity to serve and lead. If I may borrow the words of the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, “you made me a better president, you made me a better man.”
When first elected in 2015, my team Your Carleton and I promised to lead with tenacity, courage, and integrity. To set ambitious goals and look to innovate. Our limitations were set aside and we learned to never fear failure. Our vision was to build a community where all students belong. Where students are inspired through leadership and innovation in their pursuit of personal growth. We stuck to our values and the goals we set out to achieve, no matter the obstacles. However, we most definitely stumbled over the years and felt the true pressures and responsibility of leadership and public service.
You, the students, have been our source of inspiration, resiliency, and community. While the days were long and when it felt like we were taking one step backward for every two steps forward. It was your support, your belief and trust in us as a team that kept our spirits high and our minds focused to achieve every last goal. And so we thank you.
It is you who has helped form our team’s philosophy, our core values of service, stewardship, innovation, and leadership. Our core value of service intended that all of that which we do must revolve around serving others. Some of you advocated for increased mental health services, so we took it a step further and ensured all students had such services covered through our health plan. Some of you needed affordable summer transportation, so we made the Summer UPASS a reality through generations of student leaders working together.
Stewardship meant that we were the guardians of the ship, the protectors of the students’ association. Taken earnestly we saw ourselves as stewards over the associations’ valuable resources. Stewards over the commitments we’ve made to each and every one of you. In being the custodians of students’ money we ran the first back to back budget surpluses in over 8 years.
Our philosophy of innovation grew to be an eagerness to experiment. A rejection of the fear of failure and a daring attitude to experiment with new ideas. In turn, we may always be known for the greatest music video to come out of Carleton University – titled “I’m Gonna Vote” Ft, yours truly – haha. Adding to the list is our failed attempt at “Shaping Our Skyline”, a referendum with the highest voter turnout in CUSA history, which took the dream of a Student Union Building, painted it with misinformation and fear of the future, and turned it into a cringe-worthy inside joke between friends – sometimes fear gets the best of us. It was through experimentation that our greatest ideas emerged.
We held on to the honor of leadership not as a privilege but a responsibility. You asked us to never be satisfied with the status quo – to always be hungry for better. Thus, we aimed to build a creative vision of student leadership and strive for excellence in all our actions. We decided to increase the amount of resources and funding dedicated to our student leaders through Clubs and Societies, acting as catalysts to the empowerment of more student leadership.
It is on this journey of leadership, service, stewardship and innovation that my team and I stumbled on a simple yet profound truth. Our world is changing far too quickly; our generation cannot seek to solve new problems using old methods.
Today, we are faced with rising unemployment rates, the world’s greatest refugee crisis, topped by rising socio-political unrest, and a seemingly helpless global environmental crisis. We cannot get caught thinking small. We must seek to solve world problems, especially those of magnitude and scale. To do so we must question old ideologies and methodologies that have limited our scope and seek a new sort of leadership philosophy. And so I offer you this thought:
Our student leaders must become realist-idealists.
While in our traditional understanding, an idealist and a realist may seem as polar opposites. However, it is the combination of these two leadership attributes that truly inspire and mobilize people. Alone, these qualities are limited and ineffective. For example, an idealist may have great vision but lack the skills to execute. In contrast, a realist may have great execution skills but lacks vision. An idealist vision can motivate and lift people, engaging them with fiery passion, but also needs a pragmatic approach that acknowledges the reality of the challenge.
For our students to achieve the seemingly impossible they must be able to work both agendas simultaneously in an effective manner. Thus I challenge you to adopt this philosophy, to dream big, and find pragmatic tactics that lead to revolutionary results. The realist-idealist understands that even though some goals are slightly beyond reach, if there is a will then there is a way.
I leave these last words to our incoming President Zameer Masjedee and his team, One Carleton. Embrace the struggle of the great balancing act of leadership, through its many forms, approaches and realities; it is in the midst of the struggle that you and your team will bring joy and success to those whom you owe.
As put by then President Barack Obama, “the presidency is a relay race.” We came to take you on a journey of making this Your Carleton, and we leave you with our successes, our failures and our lessons. Dare to be a realist-idealist.
Sincerly, Fahd Alhattab