By Adam Brown
When this is called a “stretch experience”, that’s a perfect way to describe the last 8 months of my life. One of those stretching facets, the one which I have chosen to use for this project, is that I am serving as Chair of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations. CASA represents 23 student associations across Canada, including undergraduate, graduate and college-polytechnic groups.
I was elected Chair on May 23rd at the Foundations Conference in Ottawa. The few days that preceded that election was a much smaller version of when I campaigned for VP External. Lots of meeting the other delegates, figuring out if anyone else was running against me (there was no one), and planning to present myself in front of the membership. I then had to speak to why I should be elected Chair, take any and all questions from the membership and then wait to hear that I had been elected. I watched as the rest of the Board of Directors was elected, and had no idea just how lucky I was going to be with those people. The day after, we all went to lunch where I outlined my expectations of us as a team for the year. I felt it was important on Day 1 to set a tone of positivity, honesty and support. I wanted to make sure that we could be as comfortable together working in a conference room as we would be hanging out at a restaurant. 8 months later, I’m really happy to say that we’ve maintained everything that we set out to be as a team and I couldn’t be happier about it.
There was a part of me that didn’t believe I had been given the position until a couple of days later. It was hard to comprehend that I would be representing 270,000 students from across the country (now 280,000, plus 79,000 from our partnership with the Quebec Student Union). Last year, I had represented about 750 students from Campus Saint-Jean, and all of a sudden that number shot up. But I think what stuck more was the honour that this is, and how even though not all of those 280,000 people were paying constant attention to what I’m doing I have to serve them well every day.
I think one of the biggest takeaways of being in this position has been learning how to take care of myself. I’ve travelled a lot, as in 5 provinces and many cities in those provinces. I’ve travelled so frequently that often I’ve seen all of the movies on Air Canada flights and have resorted to learning to download on Netflix. There have been times where I’ve gotten sick because I was working so much, travelling so much, and not eating or sleeping properly. Near the end of the summer I started to realize I had to approach things differently and that only I could do it. I was going to be of no use to anyone in this job unless I started to make sure I was able to do it.
That’s not to say that I’ve hated all the travelling, in fact I never thought I would get to see this much of Canada and meet so many incredible people. It’s been a ton of fun getting to use my French in Quebec with our counterparts there, or getting to present to the Camosun College Student Society about why they should join CASA (which they did!). It takes energy, but more than that it takes passion about keeping the go-to voice of students in Canada strong. A couple of travel highlights were when I’ve presented to the House of Commons committees on Finance and Citizenship and Immigration. Being broadcasted on live tv across the country while talking about student issues on copyright law and the value of international students was exhilarating! The biggest thing I had to remember was to keep breathing, and that it’s completely alright to say “I don’t know, but we can follow up”. It’s better to be honest when advocating for students than making something up in front of MPs and the public.
I’ve saved the best for last where in December I, along with 2 other members of the CASA Board and one staff, had a 40 minute meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. I cannot credit our staff enough for having pushed to get us that meeting. A lot of people have since asked me what it was like, how it went. In all honesty, it’s a bit of a blur because of the gravity of who I was meeting, and where I was meeting him. Regardless of the public political opinion of the him, meeting the Prime Minister of Canada in his Centre Block office to discuss student issues was one of the greatest honours of my life.
To say I’ve been challenged is an understatement. To say it’s been the most gratifying experience of my life thus far is also an understatement. With 4 months left in this position, I could not be more excited to keep pushing on behalf of 280,000 students.