Foley reflects on experiences as student body president
Mason Foley just concluded a year in office as Clemson’s undergraduate student body president. Originally from Nashville, Tennessee, he joined Clemson Undergraduate Student Government (CUSG) early in his college career. He campaigned for the student body president position in the spring of 2018 and was elected by his peers to serve the 2018-19 academic year. He is set to graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in management.
We recently caught up with Foley for an extensive look back at his term in office.
Q: You just finished a year in office as president of the undergraduate student body here at Clemson. What are some of your initial takeaways from the experience?
FOLEY: The experience was awesome. My biggest takeaways have to be that student government should always be focused on the reasons people choose to come to Clemson in the first place — academics, community and school spirit. Going from there, if student government loses that focus and loses the image of the fact it’s about students and the reason they came here, then you could have problems. As long as we stay on the track, we’ll be very, very good.
Q: As much as you prepared for it and learned during your transition into office, can you estimate just how much there was related to the job you didn’t fully understand when you took over?
FOLEY: Everyone would always tell me, “You don’t know until you get in that seat.” And that’s true. One of the biggest things the previous president, Killian McDonald, told me was that this would be my own organization. She said, “You’re going to become the CEO of this organization, so change the culture, make it what you want, and run with it.” And that’s the best piece of advice I got. She said there would be a lot of things you’ll be expected to go to. You don’t have to go to them, but it’s an expectation. It’s a framework, but it’s loosely and easily able to be shaped into what the president wants it to be.
Q: What are some of the lasting memories you’ll take with you forever from your year in office?
FOLEY: A lot. It’s not just my year as president, but it’s also my senior year. We won the (football) national championship; that was amazing. I was lucky enough to go. A lot of the more concrete experiences I’ll be able to take with me are how to express my opinion in a more professional setting, whether that’s in front of Dr. Almeda Jacks, Dr. Chris Miller, President Jim Clements or the Board of Trustees. Being able to express my opinion, and the opinion of others, has been a very important thing that I’ve been able to learn. Other than that, just some of my senior year experiences. Again, the national championship and a great football season. Hanging out with my friends. Being able to juggle a work and personal life is another important thing I was able to learn.
Q: What were some of the biggest challenges to holding the office of student body president?
FOLEY: In a broad sense, being able to express the opinion of all students at all times. Really trying to figure out if a small issue that only affects a certain amount of students is big enough to bring to the attention of decision-makers higher up in the university. Juggling that and what was and was not important, and being the final decision-maker on that. Again, the hardest part was being able to figure out how to express the opinion of people all across campus. And also, as I said, it’s something I learned, but juggling my personal life and work life. That’s a lot. Figuring out when I’m not going to be working and when I’m not going to be doing presidential stuff. And when I’m not going to be hanging out with my friends. And also, realizing those two things overlap, so if I’m out in public I’m always in the spotlight.
Q: Are there any particular projects or collaborations that you’re extremely proud of from your time as president?
FOLEY: There’s a lot. Logan (Young) and I went through a list of stuff the other day. The one I’m most proud about is the student leadership engagement grant. It’s basically a scholarship so students on campus can get involved and get compensated for that. They don’t have to worry about getting a job, they can go to Clemson and be financially stable. Instead of going to work downtown to pay for Clemson, you can get involved on campus. Because they do need to get that extra income. This will kind of break down that barrier and give everyone an equal playing field. I know that I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t have all those experiences in the clubs I was in before.
Q: Is there anything you learned about the Clemson Experience that may be different than what you thought heading into your presidency?
FOLEY: The biggest thing I’ve learned about the Clemson Experience since I got into this role is that it’s a lifetime thing. Before I got in, I was in a bubble of day-to-day, semester-to-semester. And then when I became the president, I started to interact with a lot more alumni and older Clemson people. And I started to realize how much of a lifetime thing being a Clemson person is. These people love Clemson and continue to give back. They love it more than some of the students here probably love it, because they’ve been around it for so long. And that’s definitely something I didn’t really know until I got in this role.
Q: How have your relationships grown with senior-level administrators during your time as president?
FOLEY: Astronomically. I’m very lucky to call most of them my friends now. And that’s something very few student body presidents around the country are able to do. But here at Clemson, those administrators really care about the students and are very intentional in their relationships with students. It’s been very, very evident throughout my whole term, and it’s been awesome to work with them.
Q: Logan Young, who served as vice president alongside you this past year, will soon be sworn in and take the reins as student body president. What advice have you given her?
FOLEY: Logan has been there from the beginning. Whenever we had this idea to run together. She’s been through it all, seen it all. She’s a rock star. My advice to her is probably the same advice she’d give to herself. The biggest thing I’ve told her as she’s started to come up and go through the whole thing, “If you can take the voice of all the students together, it’s a very powerful thing. If you can get a large group of students and a constituency together behind one issue, you’ll see change with that issue. But if you can’t do that, you’ll have a very hard time.”
Q: What has Clemson meant to you personally, and what does the next chapter have in store for you?
FOLEY: It’s very hard to put into words what Clemson means to me. It’s been a very, very special place. I didn’t realize that until I interned in Orlando my spring semester and studied abroad in Florence, Italy my sophomore year. Both of those were back-to-back and I was gone from Clemson the whole time. I would always call my friends back home and ask about Clemson. They said it was the same as it was 10 minutes ago. That’s when I kind of realized how much I really cared about Clemson. To put it into words is a very hard thing to do. After I leave, Clemson will always be a part of me. In talking about that next chapter, I’m going to enter the private sector and hopefully start working. I have a job in Nashville, Tennessee. Maybe I’ll get back into public service after this, if I see the opportunity arise. But overall, I always want Clemson to be a part of me and I’ll always stay in touch with this experience. Because it is very hard to describe.