Student Senate president Ernst shares his thoughts with campus

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The VCSU campus is thriving! Following a very busy summer of preparation and progress, we enthusiastically welcomed back our faculty and our students. We enjoyed a multitude of social and learning activities designed to foster an environment where every student and all employees are valued and know that they drive our vision: “As an innovative university, we deliver distinctive, learner-centered experiences.”VCSU is an exciting place to live, work, and learn. As we move from start-up mode to a new yet familiar rhythm of the semester, I find myself reflecting on our new students, faculty, and staff as well as our new leaders—familiar faces in new roles. Though there are many from whom I draw inspiration and feel such gratitude for driving our collective success, there is one person in particular who “knocked my socks off” during Welcome Week—Niklas Ernst, our Student Senate president.Niklas is a senior social science major from Kronshagen, Germany. In addition to leading Student Senate, he’s run track, served as an R.A. and Learning to Live mentor, and done a research project and presented the results at the Council on Undergraduate Research’s Posters on the Hill eventin Washington, D.C.During Welcome Week, Niklas was invited to address two gatherings: the faculty and staff at our campus-wide welcome back meeting, and our new students on their first night on campus.Addressing the faculty and staff, Niklas introduced the Student Senate leadership team and shared their goals for the year. He ended with these thoughts: “I will conclude in thanking all of you for your hard work and commitment in challenging times. I know the last year has not been easy for you, our institution, and higher education in general. …I want to stress that…we greatly appreciate the daily work you do for us students. The fact that every one of you has taken on extra tasks to make things work does not go unnoticed. On behalf of our student body, I thank you for your continued commitment to VCSU and our students.”And to our new students, Niklas highlighted six things he wished he would have known when he started college:“This is your chance to start over. There won’t be many of these opportunities in life, but right now you have the chance to start fresh. You are in a new environment surrounded by people you don’t know and who don’t know you. If there are things in your life you want to change, now is the time. Today you can start becoming the person you want to be. “Start getting involved on campus right away. Don’t wait to settle in, and don’t push things off. Don’t wait a year or two to take advantage of the many opportunities that VCSU offers. Become active and join clubs and organizations in the first couple of weeks.“Read your emails. I can’t stress it enough, but if you don’t, you might not survive the first year at VCSU. Emails are our official means of communication, so make sure to read and communicate through them. I understand that it might not be the most fancy communication tool, but the chances that your professor will remind you of a deadline via Snapchat are slim to none.“Ask questions. There are two components to that. Ask questions if you don’t know something because it’s the only way to learn and to enhance your knowledge. But also, don’t just ask questions; question things. Be critical and don’t accept the status quo; challenge it.“Find yourself a mentor. A mentor can be anyone on campus—a coach, a faculty member, or even an upperclassman. I can tell you from my own experience that having a mentor is one of the most powerful and influential relationships you can have.“Realize that college is temporary. There will be moments in your college career in which you wish you could live this life forever. I certainly have times where I wish I could stay at VCSU forever. I hate to break it to you, but there is a life after college. Realizing that is key for precisely two reasons. It will make you prepare for life after college, and it will make you want to enjoy your time here even more.“I will conclude by saying what should be self-evident; however, it still needs to be said. Class of 2021, no matter your race, religion, gender/sexual orientation, immigration status or national origin, we welcome you to Valley City State University and are proud to have you on campus. It is on all of us to create an environment which is inclusive, tolerant, and safe for all. I am convinced that we will do just that.”Are your socks still on? Well done, Niklas!He was poised, eloquent, sincere, and on point with a positive reflection on who we are as a university. I am so proud of Niklas and the messages he delivered. Those unifying, value-centered statements are exactly why it is a great day to be a Viking!