26 May 2021

4 Lifelong Lessons I Gained as a Student Leader

A great university life isn’t only about different experiences and opportunities gained but also the people you meet in the process.

“Leadership is about vision and responsibility, not power.” 

~ Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance

Growing up, making it to university was never a guarantee. It was dependent on my grades, ambition, and family’s financial capability — none of which were consistent. Born and bred in Kenya, I grew up keeping to myself for the most part of my whole school life, mostly spending time with a very small group of friends and with my beloved family. 

My parents' company was a safe space. We developed a relationship of openness and friendship rather than the traditional parent-child relationship. They raised me to believe in family and human values over anything else. Looking back, though I was a happy kid, I grew up in my own timid and unambitious comfort zone — something that I’ve definitely grown from!

Fortunately, due to my parents' hard work, and the fact that my A Level grades were good, I was given the opportunity to attend university. After a few years of travelling and working, I finally started my journey at Taylor’s, ready for a change in my life. I'd a growing ambition to really develop myself — professionally and personally. Initially, I thought that this would all come through my academic life but I ventured into the different extracurricular activities available and, boy, did it help me!

During my first Clubs & Societies day, the one club that stood out to me was the Wine & Dine club. I signed up immediately and, in my first semester, managed to join their Latte art workshop (a Wine & Dine signature!), and a casual food hunt. That’s where I met Ms Jasmine, the club advisor who’s also a lecturer at Taylor’s Culinary Institute.

Ali’s Corner: Interested to know more about Wine & Dine? Find out more on their website and Instagram page.

She offered me a role in the committee after hearing about how interested I was. The relatively small committee at that time, about 7 people, became my closest friends. This marked the start of THE university experience people always dream about! The committee elected me as Vice President which was an absolute shock to my system of sticking to myself and not having any experience in extracurricular activities. 

This is where I learnt my first and most important lesson as a leader: A leader doesn't mean you’re supposed to know everything and give orders. It means to give yourself the opportunity to learn as well as to earn the confidence and support of your team to execute the vision. Wine & Dine will always be close to my heart, the place where I first began discovering myself with supportive peers that helped push me forward. In my second term, I was promoted to President of the club where I met Ms Tasha.

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Ms Tasha Thamalagha (or Godmother as we fondly call her) is definitely the pillar behind my growing confidence and a mentor in my personal and professional growth. She’s an icon of personal strength and independence — characteristics that I was only still learning about when I first met her. I admire her ability to see other’s potential and provide them the opportunity to grow and am grateful because that's exactly what she did for me! 

Ms Tasha invited me to be part of the ambassadors of Taylor’s SHINE award programme despite my lack of knowledge in it. She took the time to train and explain to me how I could also provide support to students in their own journey through the platform. Shortly after, I was elected as President of the student body. At this point I had two huge responsibilities apart from my academic life. That’s where my second lesson comes in: As a leader, you should trust your team to do their job as well and help out wherever necessary instead of micromanaging every task. 

I had to learn this not only to manage my time as a student but also to give my teams room to grow and have their own experiences. Through SHINE, I was able to meet and help a large number of students in different ways which honestly is the biggest reward of the job. I then got an opportunity to work with Taylor’s Student Welfare department during one of the semester breaks to help with the international student reporting process.

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Here’s where I met Ms Lillie Chong who selected me to be part of her first batch of Global Ambassadors. She constantly pushed me to my limits of self-discovery, motivating me to overcome my fear of public speaking by providing me the opportunity to give talks to new international students, and emcee-ing for the International Student Welcome Receptions. With her patience and persistence in training and pushing me forward, I was able to overcome my fears. 

That’s when I learned that as a leader, you will have your weaknesses, but you also have the opportunity to constantly grow and learn to overcome them. Beyond my interaction with new international students at Taylor’s, I also had the opportunity to train the newer batches of Global Ambassadors and be a part of their journey of development which is a great honour.

Through Ms Lillie’s recommendation, I was handed the opportunity to be a Unibuddy Ambassador. Being mentored by Danniel Iskandar, a close friend who I met through the Global Ambassadors programme and who always inspires me, taught me an important life lesson: Your friends and the people around you should inspire you to move forward and become a better person. To always do it for yourself and not for anyone else. Through my experience with Unibuddy, I also found my passion for writing under the guidance of Ailyn Low, without whom I wouldn’t have had this opportunity to share my experience with you.

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The butterfly effect is said to be when a butterfly flaps its wings, the effect of that could change the weather. Similarly, the chain of events that have occurred for me and the experiences gained from deciding to join a club from day 1 to meeting all these amazing people and learning so much, even developing a new passion for writing, make all this priceless for me.

Learning as an individual is a never-ending process. Growth and success are a journey, not a destination, with everyone on their own windy roads filled with unique ups and downs. I came to Taylor’s with no expectations of what was in store for me and, with my cup completely empty, all it took was that single decision towards a better change. If I could do it, then you can definitely do it too!

I started off this article with a quote by Seth Berkley, “Leadership is about vision and responsibility, not power” and as much as I agree with it, after going through my own small experiences of leadership, I’ve come to learn that it’s more than that.

“Leadership is about learning and trust, not power.”

Ali Moossajee is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Quantity Surveying (Hons) at Taylor's University. He is the President of the Taylor’s SHINE Ambassadors and Taylor’s Wine & Dine Club, a senior Taylor’s Global Ambassador, a Unibuddy Ambassador, and a permanent crew member with Need to Feed the Need.

Ali Moossajee
Guest Contributor