Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin visited his old stomping grounds Monday to tell USC students that anyone willing to put in work will succeed.
The mayor spoke specifically to students at Preston Residential College, a residence hall designated for student or aspiring leaders. Students and faculty gathered in the seminar room to hear him.
“I got to learn a lot more about the city and the initiatives that people were taking throughout the city, especially throughout the government as a whole,” said Julia Weiner, a second-year sport and entertainment management student.
Weiner decided to attend the event after hearing about it from her peers. Although a last minute decision, the experience ended up being very eye-opening for her.
“I lived in Preston last year, so I had friends communicate it with me," Weiner said. "I feel like the most important thing he was trying to get across is that it’s really important to contribute to your community and realize that the city is changing every day and that someone out there is advocating for us constantly.”
Unlike Weiner, second-year experimental psychology student Thomas Houston found out about the mayor’s appearance through the Preston Residential College.
“I found out through the GroupMe that Preston has," Houston said. "We send out a lot of information about daily events happening, especially if they’re in Preston.”
Benjamin spoke about what inspired him to go into politics and how serving as a leader in Columbia has shaped him into the person he is today. He stressed the value of getting involved in one’s community and how it can humble people into being the best versions of themselves. This concept resonated with Houston on a deeper level than most, currently holding a variety of leadership roles on campus himself.
“Leadership is everything, especially when it's in college," Houston said. "The more opportunities you can get into, the more networking you can do, the more you can successfully fulfill the rest of your life whether it’s going to higher education after undergraduate, whether it’s going into politics, whether its going into healthcare, whether it's going into anything that’s able to benefit the community.”
Houston was able to learn more about Benjamin’s personal life by attending the event. Benjamin spoke about his time as a faculty member at USC and how his time spent at the university motivated him to serve the city in a greater capacity and pursue larger goals.
“I didn’t know he was a professor at the university. He teaches at the Honors College, which I thought was really, really cool that a mayor is a professor. As well as that, he offers a intern program at the mayor’s office which I am actually looking to go into in the fall,” Houston said.
Benjamin’s transparency about mistakes in his younger years resonated with Houston and allowed him to relate to the public figure on a deeper level.
“Not everyone is perfect," Houston said. "He had some times in undergraduate school when he maybe took on more than he could handle or he didn’t manage his time as well as he could ... yet look where he is now, he;s a mayor of a very big big city, so that’s pretty impressive.”
Benjamin strongly believes in the power of a diverse city and its capacity for improvement and is thankful for its impact in his own life.
“This is a place that embraced me as a student and has continued to strengthen and edify me both personally and professionally over the last 30 years," Benjamin said. "It’s home.”