Former UNC Student Body Presidents Nic Heinke, Reyna Walters and Mo Nathan passed their torches on long ago.
Now, the three have forged on in the working world, taking valuable lessons from their experiences into life after graduation.
In the end, all agree their year in office turned out to be much more than a lofty resume credential, and they advise the future office holder to view it as such.
Only a year ago, Nic Heinke spoke for students in board meetings and lobbied for their issues in Raleigh.
Now, with bachelor's degrees in political science and economics, the Charlotte native is still lobbying, although the groups and issues have changed.
Even in his new setting, Heinke said, the most important thing about his job remains the same -- teamwork.
Barely out of his cap and gown after his 1999-2000 term, Heinke was hired to work for the N.C. Electronic Information Technologies Association. As part of a five-person team, Heinke lobbies the state government and pushes the N.C. General Assembly for things like laptops for public school teachers and computers in rural classrooms. And he said he could not do it alone. "Success comes from putting a group of passionate people together," he said.
Heinke said he considers teamwork the most valuable lesson taken from his year in Suite C. "I learned to appreciate people and thank them," he said. "I learned the importance of vision and articulating an idea and having others help come up with the details."
While he is no longer backed by student volunteers, Heinke said shared goals are still important in his current job. "Nothing brings people together more than their passion," he said. "This builds a team more than any other single issue. This is where the real inspiration and ideas come from."
Heinke said the education he received from the people surrounding him proved to be more important than the title. He added that the job taught him the skills necessary to work with those whose opinions sometimes differ from his own.
Heinke's new co-workers include a variety of people with extensive job experience. As some come from as far up as the White House, Heinke's own experience might pale in comparison. "(Being student body president) is an interesting conversation piece, but it doesn't build your resume the way you think it might."
Heinke said he would urge the future president to forget the title, find the right people and make a difference. "This is something that two, three or four years from now only your best friends will remember," he said. "The important thing is that you got things done."
Two years ago, Reyna Walters blazed trails as the University's first black female student body president.
Throughout her 1998-1999 term, Walters said she stayed focused on working for what she believed in -- primarily promoting higher education. Since graduation, she has not lost sight of those issues.
After two months of travel in Europe, the political science degree-holder from Greensboro thrust herself back into the political arena. Walters took a job in the office of Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight, D-Dare.
She now serves as special assistant for research and policy, fielding calls and letters from constituents who ask everything from how to get Medicaid to where the N.C. Scholarship Grant originated.
"I am very fortunate because a lot of the things I have been interested in for a long time, I still get to do," she said.
This fall, Walter's job shared a connection with her stint as president -- a $3.1 billion connection. On loan from Basnight's office, Walters served as student outreach coordinator for the higher education capital bond campaign.
She traveled to the 16 UNC-system campuses and various community colleges in the state to get students informed and excited about the bond.
"I got to work with students, which I love to do, and work on an issue I have been focused on since I was student body president," she said.
But knowledge about the bond was not the only plus she took from her term. Walters also sees faces at the Legislative Building that are familiar to her from lobbying as president. She said the effort she put in to the student position helped her make an easy transition to the working world. "Working those long and late hours, I was already in transition from a student at Carolina to a working person in North Carolina," she said.
Walters said the most important thing for the future student body president is to keep the job in perspective.
"Trying to remain yourself is the hardest thing to do," Walters said. "Sometimes you don't seem like a student to other students or administrators, so it is easy to forget you are one. But hold on to the things that are dear to you and have strong beliefs. Don't let the chaos deter you from them."
Three years and five Internet company jobs after his 1997-1998 term, Mo Nathan attributes a different value to his year as student body president.
In a world of dot-coms and constant innovation, Nathan said the former title has done little to earn him clout. Instead, the experience gave him a positive outlook on what he could accomplish in life beyond UNC, he said.
A week after his May 1998 graduation, Nathan, originally from Cary, put his history degree on the back burner to try his luck in the business world.
With four others and one room over a garage, Nathan started a multimedia company called Learna. But after a year and a half, it had not taken off. He thought about moving to Washington and going into politics, but decided to stay with Internet companies.
At one point, he worked for a company called Auctionrover.com. He worked 16-hour days and often slept in the office. "It was really exciting," he said. "It was in the middle of the Internet gold rush, and we didn't think anything could stop us."
Now Nathan travels to places like Miami, Atlanta and New York, working in business development for yet another Internet company, Mindlever.com.
During his wild ride through the technology industry, Nathan said he has found that it is not what he was in the past, but what he knows he is capable of, that has spelled out his success.
"In the industry I am in, the only time anyone was ever impressed that I was a Carolina student body president was when they thought I could get them basketball tickets," he said. "And I told them I could not even do that."
Nathan said that even though others are not in awe of his political past, he is grateful for the opportunity. He said he was glad he had the chance to influence campus issues, like revising the academic advising process and renovating Lenoir Dining Hall.
Nathan said these kinds of accomplishments have made the largest impact on his life now. "There is a hindsight that comes with time that there are a few things we did that really lasted," he said. "That is a really empowering feeling. It makes you look on your day at work with a whole new zeal."
Looking back, Nathan said his only regret was that he did not do more with such a golden opportunity.
Nathan urged future presidents to take full advantage of their role. "When you are student body president, people actually listen to you. When you get out of there, no one is listening," he said. "It is a tremendous opportunity to do something worthwhile, but it is a fleeting opportunity. Don't waste it."
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