By Jeremy Turner

As I sat in front of my computer screen to be sworn in remotely as Student Government Association (SGA) president in the spring of 2020, I knew my final year at the College of Charleston – and my term as SGA president – would be different from anything I had ever experienced before.

The magnitude of the role hit me within the first few weeks when President Andrew T. Hsu asked me to serve on a committee tasked with planning for CofC’s reopening in the fall. Being a part of this group not only opened my eyes to how different my final year at the College would be, but also to the enormous responsibility I had of representing the student body in the middle of a global pandemic.

RELATED: Read about how Turner worked with student-leaders to create the Cougar Pledge to help keep the campus community safe from COVID.

It quickly became clear that balancing my wants as a student with my status as SGA president would be difficult, especially when discussing what COVID-19 restrictions would be necessary in order to make it safe for students to return.

The differences in life in a COVID world weighed heavily on me and my fellow students. There were new routines we had to adjust to: making sure we didn’t leave our residence hall rooms without a mask, remembering which classes were meeting in person vs. over zoom and always trying to remain socially distanced from others.

Gone were the days when we could freely hang out with our friends. Suddenly we had to plan for how many people we could get together with (due to the limit on in-person gatherings). And we lost the ability to make new friends through the once commonplace conversations that naturally happen before or after a class, since many courses shifted online. This was an incredibly challenging adjustment to make as a student, especially as a senior having to undo many of the habits I had formed during my three previous years at CofC.

Despite the challenges, we had an extremely effective and impactful SGA Senate this year. I was very lucky to have a supportive team around me such as my chief of staff, Zach Kronsberg, and deputy chief of staff, Maya Wright, who kept me focused and on track during the most hectic times of the semester. We were able to work for the student body and address major concerns around diversity, sustainability, accessibility and safety on campus. This is a testament to how our student body as a whole responded to this pandemic, and because of the leadership they have shown this year, we emerged successful.

Even though things did not turn out exactly as we might have thought or hoped, I think the silver lining for CofC students is that we proved the doubters wrong and made it through the 2020–21 academic year on campus. By and large, students followed the COVID-19 guidelines and did their best to keep each other safe.

As I prepare to start my next chapter in law school, I will always remember the lessons that serving as SGA president in this tumultuous time have taught me: Keep your word, focus on the small victories, be flexible and available to all and never give up – even when you want to.

Jeremy Turner served as SGA president for the 2020–21 academic year. He will graduate on May 7 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and will serve as a student commencement speaker. Turner plans to attend law school in the fall. (Featured image by Heather Moran)