On the second floor of the Mary Graydon Student Center in room 250 lies the shared office space for the Kennedy Political Union and the Student Union Board. The first time I ever went inside was for my interview for the First-Year Fellow position on the KPU team. I was 2 weeks into my journey at American University and hardly even had a grasp of the campus. I remember so clearly walking up the big stairs to get to the office, dressed in the only professional clothes I owned, hoping to do well in the interview for an organization I barely knew anything about. As I’m nearing the end of my college experience, I’ve been thinking back to that moment quite often. Without knowing it, I was about to embark on a four-year journey that would, in many ways, define my time at AU.
KPU is a vessel that brings speakers to campus to provide memorable event experiences for our campus community. What most of the student body never sees, however, is how much goes into planning each of those events. With a team of over 20 students, each event is a long-term group project that requires collaboration, crisis management, and communication. We work with many departments across campus from A/V, to student activity groups, to AU administrators, just to make a seamless experience for the people who attend our events.
My first ever event was when KPU hosted Malala Yousafzai as the Wonk of the Year in 2017. As far as events go, it was like diving straight into the deep end of the pool. Within one night, I had learned an incredible amount about event planning and management, teamwork, and just how many times I could walk up and down Bender Arena’s stairs before my heels gave out. As intense as the event was, every other event afterward was just as illustrious a learning experience. Over the rest of my first year and the next two years, I staffed over 25 events. Whether it was encountering technical difficulties, late speakers, or internal event troubles, I was learning how to think on my feet and work with our talented team to solve any issue that came our way.
After three years on the team, I had learned so much about the organization and grown so much professionally and personally. I also knew that there were things we could improve on to be better servants to our community, and with the time I had spent in the organization, I felt like I could take the lead to make those changes happen. Becoming Director was not something I’d ever had in mind when I first joined the team, but I felt empowered to step up and make a difference in an organization I was passionate about. When I was selected, I was so excited to get to work. I had a hundred and one ideas and could not wait to get started.
In July of 2020, AU announced we would be entirely virtual for the Fall semester, and suddenly all those ideas went down the drain. I was at a loss. All of a sudden the question was not about what I was going to do to make KPU better, but how I was going to make KPU function at all. My team and I spent the summer building a framework for what a robust virtual event experience would look like and how to make it a worthwhile time for our campus community. We brainstormed speakers that would be relevant to our student body and talked to as many clubs as we could about how we could best collaborate with them. We built entirely new strategies for promotions and media coordination.
All in all, our hard work paid off. We had an incredibly successful year, hosting amazing speakers like Dr. Anthony Fauci, Stacey Abrams, Angela Davis, Beto O’Rourke, and so many more. But more than that, by the end of the Fall semester, we’d rebuilt the organization from the ground up to work in the new environment we lived in. When Spring came around, we had a functioning organization that provided consistent programming for its community in uncertain and scary times.
As my graduation approaches, I find myself thinking back to the moment I was about to interview for being a First-Year Fellow. I had no idea what was in front of me. In my time in KPU I have learned so much, been challenged personally and professionally, and grown as a leader, team member, and student. This organization has been an integral part of my college experience, and I am so grateful to have had the chance to lead it for my final year at AU. I’m so proud of what my team and I were able to accomplish this year, and I cannot wait to see where KPU goes next.