Student Leaders: Learning lessons in victory and defeat

August 14, 2013
By Bill Krueger

As someone who was active in student government during his years at NC State, Harold Pettigrew found that there were lessons to be learned in success and in failure.

Pettigrew was elected president of the student body for the 2000-01 academic year, and he found that the position required him to deal with a wider range of adults than most students.He talked about that experience in a series of interviews as part of the Student Leadership Initiative, a project by NCSU Libraries to chronicle the tenures of student leaders.

resolver“To be able to be a member of the Board of Trustees at the time, knowing that I’m sitting around the table with some of the richest and most influential people in the state, and that as a student … you have to come and represent not only yourself but the campus community in such a way where you’re not certainly making a fool of yourself, you’re not presenting just student passionate arguments, but that you’re presenting rational perspectives, that you’re well read, that you’re informed and, quite frankly, can speak at the level and caliber that the rest of the trustees are able to,” Pettigrew said in one of the interviews.

Pettigrew said that experience prepared him for a series of jobs he had in Washington, D.C., including serving as director of small business development for the District of Columbia. Pettigrew left that position earlier this year.

During his year as president, Pettigrew helped establish a need-based scholarship known as the Wolfpack Student Initiative. It was later renamed the Tom Stafford Student Endowment.

Pettigrew ran for a second term as student body president, but was narrowly defeated. He said in one of the videos that it was a “tough pill to swallow,” but that he learned valuable lessons from that experience as well.

“It was the first time, in a major way, I’d experienced rejection, particularly when I felt I did a pretty good job representing students, bringing new programs, those sorts of things,” he said.

“So the experience certainly taught me to have very thick skin and to separate sometimes — well, quite frankly, often times — politics from policy and governance…”

Pettigrew said that Darryl Willie, who won the election to be the next student body president, proved to be the sort of student leader that the campus needed during the traumatic days following 9/11.

“On the whole, it played out the way it was supposed to,” he said. “It was tough because the margin was so thin, but looking back it was the thing that needed to happen at the time, certainly for me to have the pathway that I’ve had since leaving State.”

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