Ten years after graduation, I’m on the board of two major non-profit organizations. I was recently elected president of a national political organization, and I’m in a position to have a major impact on issues that matter to me.  How did I get here?  I owe part of my success to the time I invested in leadership and volunteer activities when I was on Grounds.  Students too can make a difference in their community, but I’ve learned it’s vital to make the effort to get involved now.

Atima Omara (Col '03) is president of the Young Democrats of America, the largest youth-led, national, partisan political organization in the nation.
While at UVA, I was active in Student Council, I wrote for the Cavalier Daily and I volunteered at Madison House. The University’s model of student self-governance gives tremendous opportunities to get involved. With the support and encouragement of the administration, students can learn to work with others through organizations that make a real difference on Grounds and in the Charlottesville community.

That impact is real.  As an undergraduate, I traveled with fellow students to Richmond to lobby for funds that would affect the quality of our education.  I marched with Take Back the Night to stand with my classmates who had endured sexual assault and abuse. When the University cut library hours during a round of budget cuts, we lobbied to get them restored. Taking advantage of student self-governance taught me to take on leadership early in my life with a confidence that I think graduates of other universities can rarely match.

That experience made it easier for me to stay involved even after graduation. While I might have buried myself in work or graduate school, I had already learned that the world is shaped by the people who take the time to get involved.  Otherwise, it is shaped entirely by the needs of previous generations.

Change is never easy, and all organizations have their politics.  Through personal experience, however, I’ve learned that Larry Sabato was right when he told my class his mantra that “politics is a good thing.” Politics is how we organize ourselves on a national scale to tackle truly immense challenges.  Many of the speakers in this year’s 50th anniversary of the March on Washington were college students when they formed organizations and coordinated sit-ins, marches, and voter registration drives in the 1960s. They knew that change doesn’t come quickly. It rarely does. But they also knew it makes the success much greater when it does.