“ Advocate for those tha
Words by | Taylor Six
We Live Here
Eastern Kentucky University
senior and Ethiopian-native Eyouel Mekonnen has always been an advocate .
It ’ s a lesson he learned many years ago defending another kid from playground bullies .
“ In elementary school , there was a kid in our class — a refugee from Somalia . I remember these kids were picking on him and there was something in me that felt the need to stand up for those that cannot stand up , in that moment , for themselves ,” he recalled . “ I remember asking them to stop bullying him .” The bullies beat Mekonnen up instead . The EKU senior said , after taking the full brunt of the bullies ’ ferocity himself , he was sitting on the floor crying .
At that moment , his teacher came over and explained that what he had done , was an act of selflessness .
“ You didn ’ t do it because of x-y-z , you did it because you knew it was the right thing to do ,” he recalled his teacher ’ s words .
“ That is something I will never forget and it has stuck with me as well .”
Mekonnen is putting that childhood lesson into action as the newly-elected student body president and the first international student ever elected to the position .
The senior is also the first Black student body president at EKU in more than 40 years .
“ It reminds me every single day that we can ’ t wait another 40 years . We have to set up systems of excellence and programs that help our underpopulated students to succeed ,” Mekonnen said .
The SGA president ’ s path to leadership was one that he didn ’ t expect .
When Mekonnen was just a freshman at the university , his first encounter with student government was during a Colonel Craze event when he passed by SGA ’ s information table .
He was hesitant at first , until former SGA President Madison Limscomb approached him and encouraged him to join . Unbeknownst to him at that time —
14 Madison Magazine January-February 2021
he had just met his predecessor .
“ When the fall elections rolled around , I decided I would throw my hat in the bucket for student senator ,” Mekonnen recalled .
On Election Day for the Student Government Association body that semester , Mekonnen went into the office to turn in receipts of votes .
Upon entering the office , Mekkonen said he was struck with imposter syndrome .
“ I walked into the office and it was so intimidating and dark , and there were just piles of paper laying everywhere ,” he recalled . “ I just felt like an imposter walking into the room …. I was very intimidated and did not think that I had any chance of belonging there .”
Feeling discouraged , Mekonnen said he gave up almost immediately because he felt so out of place and believed there was no way he could be elected .
Despite his own doubts , the student body believed he was the right choice , and he won a seat on the student senate by a mere four points .
“ Seeing the results , I was surprised and encouraged ,” he said . “ And as I walked out of the results and was standing outside of Powell Student Center , I remember making myself a promise that when I was to become a senior , I would run for student body president and win .” He lived up to his promise . Now in the executive position , Mekonnen has several goals he hopes to accomplish .
One , is that every student — traditional or non , no matter their race , in-person or online — be represented at EKU .
“ At the core of our job descriptions , we in student government have the responsibility of representing students and making sure the collegiate experience is better when we leave , than when we started ,” he began .
“ That is what I enjoy and where my drive is ; in making sure they are represented and their voices are heard . That is what I truly enjoy .”
Mekonnen said his goal is to work on behalf and be a voice for students who can ’ t attend meetings .
“ I am doing this for the student that can ’ t be at the town hall meetings or with administrators because they are taking 18 credit hours and have a part-time job . It is for the non-traditional student with five kids that can ’ t make it , or the single mother that has a job and school to balance . I have the pleasure of being able to sit in this seat , and that is who I am doing it for . That is who I go into the meetings and town halls for , for those who can ’ t ,” he explained .
Mekonnen said he and his vice president , Nick Koenig , campaigned and now with work four cornerstones in the representation they hope to give during their tenure .
These include : Student engagement and rights , mental health awareness and advocacy , food insecurity , and sustainability .
Another goal of the SGA president was to change the culture of SGA to be more inclusive , and create a culture of advocacy within student government .
“ For us , the first step was simple , and that was to change the culture of SGA ,” he explained .
Mekonnen said he worked with members of the executive branch to establish a foundation of principles and completely revamp the operations of that body .
“ What that did was it created a culture shift that yes , there is a pure advocacy from peers that are passionate , but it further strengthened our internal set of systems and that is what we focused on . We wanted a system set up intentionally that will return peers who are passionate and interested , because they too are also students .”
Simply put , Mekonnen said he hopes to create an environment where no one felt overwhelmed to be a part of the student government — like he once was .
“ I want to make sure that I do everything possible , and in my reach of influence , to make sure that the student government has the same goal to advocate for those that cannot advocate for themselves for whatever reason ,” Mekonnen explained .