MSA presidential candidate Ejaz says goodbye to the committee he helped transform

“Leaving CCRC was like leaving home,” he said.

Syed Ejaz never planned on running for president, and originally didn’t want to join the Missouri Students Association at all.

Ejaz spent his first two years in politics at the state level, interning in Jefferson City at the capitol. He said he came out of high school “gung-ho” about politics, but that his experience in Jefferson City left him disillusioned.

“I had every idealistic bone in my body broken in those two years,” he said. “It was different than I thought it should be, and toward the end I really felt betrayed by my love for politics because it kind of took me into an environment I really didn’t want to be in anymore.”

Ejaz was frustrated with what he called the “dark side” of politics. It was there where he met Chad Phillips, who was the MSA Campus and Community Relations Committee chairman at the time.

“That’s when this Chad Phillips came walking along, and he said ‘Hey, well, if you’re sick of this stuff like me, join MSA and give that a shot,’” he said. “I said, ‘No, I don’t want to join MSA!’”

He said he initially thought MSA was “a joke,” but he eventually went to a few CCRC meetings. The committee’s purpose is to advocate for students at the city government.

He said the turning point for him was when he addressed Columbia City Council for the first time about the College Avenue median.

“I think part of it is because students don’t typically engage with city council, and they were just surprised to see me up there, but I had their attention, and that was a really cool feeling,” he said. “It felt like what I was saying was really important.”

One year later, Ejaz was confirmed as the CCRC chairman.

Phillips said he saw the potential for leadership in Ejaz immediately, and that he sat down to talk to him about his goals for CCRC shortly after he joined.

“You could tell, even if there wasn’t an explicit mentioning of it, that he had not just the leadership abilities, but also the motivation and the drive to pursue it,” Phillips said. “(His passion) was clearly contagious as well — you could see it with other members who worked alongside him in projects.”

Current CCRC chairman Alex Higginbotham said one of Phillips’ major roles as chair was to establish close ties between the committee and Columbia City Council, which Ejaz would eventually continue to develop.

“When I first came in to CCRC my freshman year, you were hard-pressed to find more than one or two city council members who had ever heard of CCRC, or even MSA,” Higginbotham said. “Now, you’d be hard-pressed to find anybody on city council who hasn’t heard of us.”

Under Phillips, the committee became extremely proficient at developing ties with city council members. That meant regular meetings with city officials and sitting through city council meetings. Council meetings often lasted until midnight.

“We all have our titles and positions and jobs, but every hour that passes (late at night), you just become less of that and more of a human being,” he said. “If you’re at City Council at 10 p.m. on a Monday, you’re not going to be having fun; you’re not going to be all prim and proper. You’re going to laugh at things and express yourself.”

Phillips eventually appointed Ejaz as his vice chairman. Ejaz became chairman immediately after Phillips left the position, and eventually appointed Higginbotham as his vice chairman.

Higginbotham said Ejaz fundamentally changed the way he personally saw MSA. He said a lot of people come into MSA focused on their own success instead of helping others.

“He really helped me to understand that MSA should not be about titles,” he said. “It should not be about climbing some imaginary ladder that doesn’t actually exist.”

Ejaz said he initially didn’t want to run for president because he didn’t want to step down from CCRC. He said he only came around to running because he felt it was his duty, and because he was confident Higginbotham was capable to lead the committee.

“Leaving CCRC was like leaving home,” he said. “The people in my committee were some of my closest friends, and I don’t get to see them that much any more. Our friendship is founded on the work that we did, and I don’t get to do that work any more.”

As for his goals after graduation, Ejaz said he doesn’t see himself going into politics. He said his time in Jefferson City had turned him off to the idea, and that he thought now was the best time for him to be involved in advocacy. A finance and political science major with a minor in economics, Ejaz said he was considering applying to a master’s program in economics.

“When people ask me what I want to be, I tell them I just want to be a banker,” he said, and laughed. “That’s basically true. I like finance and banking a lot.”

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