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Sam Mendoza: Witnessing History

January 26, 2009

When Sam Mendoza attended a youth leadership forum as a high school student, he never imagined it would lead to an invitation to watch the Jan. 20 inauguration of Barak Obama as the 44th president of the United States.

Mendoza was still amazed two days after the inauguration by what he had seen in Washington, D.C.

“My inauguration experience was incredible,” said Mendoza upon his return.  “The trip was well worth getting up at 2 a.m., walking two miles to the National Mall and staying up for hours in the freezing cold.”

Mendoza said that watching history happen before his eyes was sobering and exciting.

“The atmosphere was electric,” he said.  “Seeing millions of people from around the world come together for this moment in history is something I will cherish for the rest of my life. I’m glad that when I get older I can look back and be able to say, ‘I was there, a witness to history.’”

Participant activities during the inauguration trip included panel discussions with political experts on current events and topics.  The conference ran Jan.17-21 and the students heard several noted speakers, including former vice president Al Gore, retired Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Colin Powell and filmmaker/author Eric Weihenmayer, a blind man who climbed Mt. Everest.

Mendoza, a senior fine arts major from Brownwood and president of the University Center Program Council, received a letter in July from the University Presidential Inaugural Conference stating that he had been accepted to attend the five-day event in Washington, D.C.

“I went to a National Youth Leadership Forum on technology,” Mendoza said.  “Since I’m an alumnus, they offered me a chance to go to the inauguration.”

Mendoza said he wasn’t aware of a connection between the NYLF and the inaugural conference, so the invitation came as a surprise.

“One day when I got home, there was a letter for me, all presidential looking with stars and stripes and a little capitol dome on it,” Mendoza said.  “It said the conference was coming up and they wanted me to be there.”

According to the Web site, participation in the conference is reserved exclusively for alumni of the National Youth Leadership Forum (NYLF), the Congressional Youth Leadership Council (CYLC) and the International Scholar Laureate Program (ISLP).

The Web site states that scholars invited must have attended one of the programs, met the academic requirements and demonstrated leadership qualities necessary to make positive contributions to the quality and integrity of the inaugural conference.

Despite the political scene Mendoza found himself in, he said he isn’t focused on politics at this point of his life and watched the events more for the historical context.

After returning from the inauguration, Mendoza is shifting his focus back to his two main concerns, completing his fine arts degree in graphics design and presiding over the UCPC’s planning and implementation of campus activities.

When he pushes away from his graphic artwork on a computer screen, a strong sense of community pulls Mendoza toward his duties with the UCPC.

Mendoza has been involved with the program council since he began volunteering time for credit in a university studies class.  From there, he became a UCPC committee member entertainment chairman for two years and, finally, its president.

“I would like to continue as UCPC president,” Mendoza said.  “Every year, they start with new applications and interview processes, and we have to reapply.  I love to do this and after being here for so long, I can see myself doing something like this for a career – like promoting events.”

Director of Student Involvement Rick Greig sees Mendoza as a driving force behind the UCPC’s performance.

“At first glance, Sam doesn’t look like the leader of a major campus organization,” Greig said.  “The results he’s achieved both as the previous entertainment chairperson and currently as the UCPC president speak pretty loudly to his ability to create an environment where a diverse group of leaders can be productive and have fun doing it. Sam helps all of us think more “out of the box.”

 Student Programs and Activities Coordinator Clint Havins also attributes the organization’s effectiveness to Mendoza’s efforts.

“Much of the success of the program council is due to the leadership and dedication of Sam,” Havins said.  “He has been directly involved with many major programs such as the monthly Club Café series and the two most recent spring concerts.”

“The average attendance of the Club Café has increased from 20-40 people to 160-200 people and the August 2008 Club Café featuring comedian Alex Thomas had approximately 420 in attendance,” he said.  “It is refreshing to be associated with a student who has achieved success on so many levels.”

The UCPC, with Mendoza at its helm, is a far-reaching umbrella organization that oversees seven different committees: art, cultural, entertainment, films, publicity, spirit and traditions and the recreations group.

“Each committee meets every week to discuss and plan events for the campus throughout the year,” Mendoza said.

Besides the Club Cafés, which bring in comedians, poets and bands, UCPC members also play an integral part in the big fall kickoff, Rambunctious Weekend.

“We play a pretty big part of that and most of the funds for the Rambunctious Weekend come out of funds we have here,” Mendoza said.  “We volunteer our time to be out there and promote a lot of UCPC events that are coming up.”

He said the committees pick out what they want for activities and, since the money comes from student fees, the students have a say in what events are scheduled.

“If they just come to the meetings and express what they would like to see on campus, there is a better chance of it actually happening than if they aren’t on the board or a committee,” Mendoza said.