By Becca Clemons
Ryan Smith lost by one vote in the Student Government senate elections his freshman year.
Then he ran again, and lost again, his sophomore year.
“At that point I was thinking, ‘Man, this might not be the right path for me,’” Smith said.
The third time, however, he pulled through. Smith was elected student body president in 2009, a position he would hold for the next two years alongside Vice President Kelsey Hayes.
“I always really enjoyed politics,” Smith said, “and I really enjoyed the idea of meeting the different people that make things happen — interacting with those folks, finding out what certain individuals want to see changed, and making that happen.”
In addition to being president of the student body, Smith serves on the UK Board of Trustees and Presidential Search Committee, making him a key decision-maker at the university.
Smith said serving a trustee has been the best experience for him as SG president.
“I think that the opportunity to talk to those people, to have one-on-one conversations with them, to get to know them on a personal level … and just that professional experience has been invaluable,” Smith said.
He said being a Board member was intimidating at first, and that serving for two years made him especially prepared to make decisions at UK.
“I might have looked pretty confident, but I was shaking in my boots — literally,” said Smith, currently sporting a pair of cowboy boots. “To be in a room with those people who have attained so much and done so much for the university and the state … was intimidating at first. It took me almost a whole year to get to a point where I was comfortable and understood the process.”
Board of Trustees Chairman Britt Brockman said Smith brings an air of confidence and maturity to the Board that he has not seen in years from a student representative.
“He brings such maturity to his position that he looks at issues from a global perspective while cognizant of the students’ perspective on campus,” said Brockman, who served as SG president in 1981-82. “He certainly is able to look at each of these situations and represent the university’s best interest, no matter what that means.”
Smith and Hayes said they were lucky to serve two terms and doing so allowed them to form better relationships and get more done.
“We’ve definitely been blessed to have one, let alone two terms,” Hayes said. “The second term we didn’t have the learning curve that most presidents and vice presidents have to deal with.”
Both Smith and Hayes have lived in Kentucky their whole lives; Smith was born in Frankfort, and Hayes in Owensboro.
Hayes will join Teach for America after her graduation this year, but Smith said he doesn’t know what his future holds after he receives his Masters in Business Administration next May.
“I want to stay in Kentucky,” Smith said. “I love this state, and I want to find a way to make a difference, whether it’s in nonprofit work, or whether it’s in business, or whatever it may be.”
Brockman said he is confident that Smith can accomplish whatever goals he sets forth.
“I expect to be reading about Ryan Smith in a history book somewhere, someday,” Brockman said.
Smith’s interests drew him to political work; in his early college years, Smith got to travel with President George W. Bush — and he worked for then-Republican Party Chairman Mike Duncan in Washington, D.C., after his sophomore year.
“I’ve just tried to put myself in the best position possible. Dr. (Lee) Todd always says, ‘If you don’t know what you want to do, just work hard, just constantly work,’” Smith said.
After serving as UK president for a decade, Lee Todd’s administration ends this year. Smith was chosen as one of two student representatives to the Presidential Search Committee, the group that will choose Todd’s successor by the end of next month.
Smith said this is one of the biggest decisions he will be part of in his time at UK.
He was involved in the naming of the Wildcat Coal Lodge, a Board of Trustees decision that caused controversy across campus.
“(It) was a difficult position for me because I really value the contributions of Joe Craft; the coal industry has done a lot for the state,” Smith said. “It’s hard because sometimes … your personal viewpoint conflict with what you’re supposed to do as a representative of the people that you’re serving, and that was an instance in which those two butted heads with each other.”
Overall, Smith and Hayes said after their terms, they have no unfinished business.
“I can’t say that I’m excited for it to be over, but I’m definitely excited with the work that we’ve done,” Hayes said. “I am excited for Nikki (Hurt) and Micah (Fielden) to experience what Ryan and I got to experience.”
Their biggest legacies include the Tally Cats program, Cats Cruiser late-night driving service, and Scholarship Drive. Smith said it has been encouraging to see their ideas come to reality and be successful, but also that all of their successes wouldn’t have been possible without the rest of the SG staff.
“It’s been a great run,” Smith said. “(It’s) bittersweet, but we’re ready to move on.”
SG president-elect seeks transparency for next year