Three Congresses. Three very different experiences.

Congress 2016: Join the roar of student voices
Congress 2017: Speak out, spark change
Congress 2018: The Year of Student Voice

Congress 2016. My first time at what would become a 3-year-tradition of coming back to a place  where students come together to talk about issues that matter the most to them; not simply to complain about them, but to actively plan, campaign and make a difference. I had never been surrounded by so many students that were so passionate and excited by not only student voice and  leadership but also about independent issues. Just a few weeks prior to Congress, I thought I was the only person in my school that was passionate about student voice but there I was, standing at the Congress Open Morning, shouting the Congress chant at the top of my lungs with so much joy, because my action team’s topic had just made the top 5 priorities, for the newly elected Exec to work on during their term. I was just a delegate at this Congress; Little did I know that this was only the beginning…

Congress 2017. So my school, like many others, has this unspoken rule: if you've already been to Congress, you can't go again so other students get a chance. Fair enough. But I wasn't gonna let that stop me from attending. NA-UH! So, I applied for a metro scholarship and was successful. Yay! Trust me, I wasn’t expecting it. My journey was far from being over though. I told myself that because I got the scholarship that I would run for the Executive. “It just had to be a sign.” I ran for the Executive. And guess what? I managed to grab one of the 15 spots. Out of 250+  delegates there, I was elected to represent the voice of Victorian students. That still amazes me to this day. Like … WOW. I remember distinctly spending that Congress campaigning not to get votes but to understand the stories and backgrounds of everyone I met. My aim was just to connect with people - to hear what people had to say, what they were passionate about, what got them fired up & ready to go. I guess it paid off, huh? To everyone who voted for me, thank you! It has been an honour and a blessing representing you as well as an amazing learning experience; so thank you for giving me this opportunity in life.

Congress 2018. This year, I was not only coming to Congress as a delegate but also as an Executive, someone running the camp alongside VicSRC staff and volunteers. It was a very weird feeling; something that didn’t sink in until Day 1 of Congress. Everyone somehow knew me but I didn’t know them. It felt very surreal. It was always a constant reminder that I was a part of the team that was “running the show” this year. Running into people I’d grown closer to in past Congresses was a combination of heartwarming but also heartbreaking because I couldn’t sit down and catch up with them, like I could the previous Congress. This year, I was busy running around, prepping for the upcoming elections or looking over my MC notes, reading through email notifications or finding the nearest power point to charge my almost-dead phone. Day 3 came by almost in an instant. With so much to focus on, the priority was just getting through each day, still making sure to have that Congress energy about me and talk/check-in with the delegates. Even though by the end of Congress I was utterly exhausted, looking back, there were moments which I remember fondly: of laughter, of dressing up, with friends, of signing t-shirts, of taking pictures and boomerangs, of making catchphrases even aha. I got to connect with so many people, whether it was a short conversation in the dining hall or a laughing fit right before bedtime (to the 2 Exec, you know who you are). Moreover, I got to connect with the Exec; something I thought we’d all miss out on because we’d be too busy running around but somehow it turned out to be the exact opposite.

Three years of coming back to students amplifying not only their voice but also the voices of all Victorian students. Each year has been completely unique in its experience, but has always left me with a bag of mixed emotions: namely awe, shock and gratefulness that such a camp like Congress exists. From being just a delegate the first Congress to a candidate running for Exec the following year and then this year, actually “running the show”, each 3-day-camp has been wild; an explosion of student voice that takes the life outta me but definitely leaves me wanting more! Being RO (Returning Officer) this year, it meant that I wasn’t able to lead an action team (which I was sad about initially) but by the time Congress got into the swing of things, I completely understood why *nervously chuckles*. As an RO, for nominating delegates, you have to play the good cop/bad cop role in one person. As in, there are questions you can’t answer because it would put others at a disadvantage (e.g. What should I include in my speech?) and at times you have to blunt with nominees (e.g. advise them to consider whether they really should be running for Exec). Some of the nominating delegates were friends of mine but as an RO, I could not show favour towards them by providing them with extra advice. See how it works? Being RO was about striking this careful balance between neutrality towards all candidates but still supporting them in whatever way they needed, without disadvantaging anyone else. Since RO was my only role during Congress, that meant I got to spend a lot of time with my RO partner in crime, Ryan Wijaya; though we had what seemed like hours to prep for the elections, time slipped through our hands like quicksand. Unlike our Saturday meetings, we didn’t spend time talking about Exec- or elections-related stuff but a myriad of other things that made it feel like we were just catching up, like old friends do. You see, the thing about being on the Exec is that you don’t leave with just 1 best friend but with 14. You leave with a family. That’s both the greatest and hardest thing about it.

So thank you, Congress delegates, for letting me represent your voices and the voices of Victorian students.

And thank you to the VicSRC Executive 2017-18, for becoming my second family and for giving me memories that will surely last a lifetime.

Yours truly,

Clare Joseph

VicSRC Executive 2017-18