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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Jackson of all trades

On a behemoth wraparound cherry wood desk, next to matching cabinets – all donated by Malon Southerland, Class of 1965 and the former vice president of Student Affairs – rest letters to various University administrators, an inbox of neatly stacked memos, a pad of SGA stationary, a few personal photographs, a TAMU-Qatar mug and a box of auditing practice cases.
But behind his glass nameplate in the posh private office of Texas A&M’s student body president sits an unassuming, T-shirt-and-jeans-clad college guy who, upon quick glance, is more likely to be placed roaming the halls of Wehner than in one of the most scrutinized seats of the 43,000-member student body. Jackson Hildebrand may be a prime example of a person who could easily showcase himself through his position, but rarely does.
“I try to stay out of a suit whenever I can,” he said, his speech nuanced with a Texas twang. “But some days it’s not possible.”
People venture into Hildebrand’s office seeking advice, answers relating to student government, and just to say hello. Despite the fact that they may be one of 30 visitors that day, they rarely leave without a flash of their student body president’s dimples and his “upside-down” smile, a common joke among his friends and family. To handle the workload of his position, he has about five faculty advisors to guide him through difficult territory, along with the Student Government Association’s (SGA) 18-member Executive Council, which keeps him abreast of specific campus issues.
Despite the self-importance that could accompany such a mighty clan of committed informants suggests, Hildebrand seems to care little about being a big fish in the pond. In fact, he constantly deflects attention from himself.
“I’m not exactly behind the scenes, but I’m more relational in the way I work,” he said. “People are surprised to learn I’m not political by any means. I don’t believe in using power to get places.”
And it would be difficult to disprove him based on his some of his internal staff decisions thus far. Hildebrand, who constantly mentions the dedication of his hand-picked Executive Council (or “team,” as he prefers) as he doles out thanks and credit by the truckload, structured this branch of student leaders so that they are basically equal among each other. He refers to the members as “student advocates,” one of many ways he strives to keep the phrase “student government” literal.
“I’m not into hierarchy, and people can see that my team is equal,” said the Southlake, Texas, native. “They’re not ‘executive directors’ or ‘vice presidents’…They’re not concerned who gets the credit for (the work they do). They’re in it for the students.”
Bobby Tucker, Class of 1979 and the primary adviser for SGA, has worked closely with student body presidents for six years. He said Hildebrand’s restructuring of his fellow students was the first of its kind.
“That’s been a unique approach, and one of the differences (among past student body presidents) you would notice right away,” Tucker said. “His team has been very much just that – a team.”
Hildebrand wants students to be involved in the decisions affecting A&M; he is so adamant about open communication that he has an open-door policy, which results in steady flow of SGA team members, advisers and other students passing through his door. He expects to be interrupted multiple times in an hour when he is in his office, which is usually sandwiched between classes and meetings.
He said the biggest challenge of his position is making unpopular decisions.
“The hardest thing is making a decision that you know affects everyone, but won’t necessarily please everyone,” he said.
Among his closest friends and co-workers, a word continuously used to describe Hildebrand is “laid-back” – a trait that just may be a saving grace to his organized lifestyle. He said his position has forced him not to take himself too seriously – be it when dealing with criticism, when overhearing students discussing a recent SGA decision, or when he accidentally delivers a speech with his button fly down, which happened during a forum last spring.
“There’s so many things that happen you can be dramatic about, but why? Tomorrow’s going to happen. Me flipping out over a situation isn’t going to help anything,” he said.
It is also a wise decision, considering the amount of time he spends at his position and maintaining his well-above-average semester GPR.
“When I asked (about the time commitment) last spring, (the advisers) said 60-70 hours, and I laughed at that. But it’s pretty accurate,” Hildebrand said.
For those quick to associate the word “laid-back” with “laziness,” Hildebrand’s adherence to a demanding schedule quashes any suspicions of apathy. Being student body president requires a student to juggle classes, meetings with administrators, students and advisers and any extra-curricular activities he dares to continue on a drum-tight schedule.
In his office, a framed SGA poster, a mounted Muster poster, a bulletin board spanning several feet and an enormous dry-erase board decorate the walls of Hildebrand’s private office, along with a souvenir from his election campaign – a white, professionally printed goals poster. Divided into 11 categories with headers such as “Community Relations,” “Finance,” Development” and “Student Services,” the poster now serves as Hildebrand’s personal checklist to keep him focused on his campaign promises. Beside each category, various goals are listed neatly; a thick black line has been marked through some phrases.
“I strike through anything I’ve accomplished so far. A lot I can’t cross out until the end,” he said.
The category name “finance” is triumphantly circled, symbolizing that all the campaign goals for this section are as good as accomplished.
“I make a little progress every now and then,” he said.
His favorite ornament is a large, handcrafted wooden carving of the official Texas A&M seal.
“It’s always been in the room of the SBP. I think it’s one of the coolest pieces in here,” he said.
Hildebrand is meticulously organized – “I’m big on documenting everything” – and he insists on meeting minutes, reports, budgets and general information relating to student government being posted online, “so that students can be aware of what’s going on and be aware of opportunities,” he said.
He credits the Microsoft Outlook program on his office computer with keeping him organized. He’s not used to visualizing his commitments; he said he has always trusted his superior short-term memory to remember obligations. This is the first year he’s kept a calendar.
“I used to be able to remember what I had (each day of the week) … But this year, I can’t not keep a planner,” he said.
One way he gauges his day-to-day productivity is by the number of new e-mails in his Inbox (which is divided into 38 subfolders.)
“On Sunday nights, I’ll get down to two (unread or unanswered e-mails),” he said.
From the amount of time he spends organizing, recording, and filing, it seems the neckties of the KPMG, LLP employees in Washington, D.C., may need loosening come June, when Hildebrand will begin an auditing internship at the prestigious accounting firm.
Hildebrand concerns himself with all things student government each day, but when his time on campus is up, he retreats – conspicuously absent of a bookbag, since he tries to avoid taking any sort of work home – to the house he shares with three friends, who he says keep him sane.
“My friends really keep me sane,” he said. “I love living with these guys.”
After hours, Hildebrand enjoys lounging with his roommates, possibly catching the latest South Park rerun. Noting that his house “isn’t conducive to studying,” he uses his home as a place to party and relax and, in his words, “just chill.” In his free time on the weekends – usually only Saturdays – he prefers to catch a movie, hang out at his house with his friends, or attend live music concerts of alternative rock bands like Better Than Ezra or Jack Johnson.
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Joseph Hildebrand, younger brother to Jackson and bearer of the same distinct smile, lives across the street from his brother. He says he is not surprised at all that Jackson is in such a prominent position at A&M.
“I think it was always in the back of his mind,” said the sophomore general studies major said. “He’s always had high ambitions. I’m not surprised at all.”
Joseph Hildebrand said his older brother has made him proud.
“He’s a role model for me,” Joseph Hildebrand said.
Hildebrand said he is not an easily stressed person, which probably explains how he is able to keep his grades, his position’s duties, and maintain his close friendships in a freakishly healthy balance. But does he ever fantasize about being a normal student without all the responsibility?
“There’s times that I envy those that get to study three hours for a test, but that’s about it,” he said. “You know, I’m so grateful for what I’m able to do. I really enjoy people. For me, working closely with students and helping them be involved is the best thing about this job,” he says, his last word in almost perfect unison with the two-toned Microsoft Outlook chime of a new e-mail to read.

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