Meet Zach Hylton: Inspiring student and Senior Leadership Award winner

At this year’s Student Leadership awards, which took place on April 20th, Zach Hylton walked away with the crown jewel, the Distinguished Senior Leadership Award. Zach is a senior from Cleveland, Ohio who majors in political science and sociology/anthropology with a concentration in China studies. His involvement in, well, pretty much everything you can think of truly makes him a distinguished student leader.
 
Her Campus St. Olaf: What won you this award?
Zach Hylton: I don’t know! I don’t think I entirely deserve it, because so many people have done so many cool things. But I guess I’ve been involved in a lot of stuff ever since first year. I was in track all four years, lots and lots of cultural organizations, TRiO Mentorship, Student Support Services; I was the SGA multicultural senator, I’ve spoken in chapel and on panels… so I’ve done a lot of leadership and volunteer things on campus.
 
HC: Which was your favorite activity?
ZH: It would have to be between two. First, I’m a McNair scholar, which is a program for students that are underrepresented in higher education. I’m really grateful to be a part of that. I got to do research on Romanian and Bulgarian corruption and present it at the University of Minnesota. That was really intense. Also, I was the president of Harambe, the umbrella organization for all the multicultural organizations on campus. It was fun to be a part of all those orgs and help them get done what they needed to get done.
 
HC: What motivates you to do all these things?
ZH: In the beginning, I just wanted to try everything. But as time went along, I discovered that it’s just fun to be involved in so many different things. You get so involved. With school, you just write papers and take tests, and nothing really tangible comes out of it. But when you’re in an organization, you go to meetings, plan events, and have events. It’s something practical, and you can see the end result.
 
HC: Do you sacrifice your schoolwork to make time for all your extracurriculars?
ZH: Yeah, definitely. Sometimes it’s just a great way to procrastinate. I went through a rough point when I was overwhelmed, but eventually you have to just learn to do things efficiently.
 
HC: How do you keep yourself balanced?
ZH: I’m really flexible. If I have to stay up late to finish something, I will. Or if I only have one opportunity to hang out with friends, I’ll just take it. I’ll be really tired the next day, but at least I can say I hung out with my friends. Being really flexible has helped me make time for stuff.
 
HC: What’s the most intimidating thing you’ve done at St. Olaf?
ZH: One thing I was kind of nervous about was being on a panel with a bunch of leaders for a Martin Luther King Day celebration last year and talking about the Beloved Community. I really felt like I didn’t know that much and didn’t know what to say. But it worked out.
 
HC: What are you doing after you graduate?
ZH: Well, I’m deciding between three different things. Two grad schools: the University of Minnesota Masters of Development Practice and the International Affairs Graduate Program at the New School in New York City. Thirdly I’m waiting to hear about a scholarship to study Chinese in Taiwan for a year.
 
HC: What’s your career goal?
ZH: I hope to get into international development in some way. Ideally, I would be working with foreign policy, which could range from diplomatic stuff to World Bank stuff to being out in the field helping people.
 
HC: Any specific country you’d like to work with?
ZH: Not really! It’s more that I’m really interested in capacity building and bringing opportunities to people. I’m all about equal opportunity. I think everyone should be able to go to school, get a scholarship, vote, participate in government.
 
HC: Have you done any international travel?
ZH:
I spent the summer after my first year here studying Chinese in Taiwan. I got a scholarship through the Taiwanese government, so I had to choose my own school, figure out housing, and all that stuff. And I realized once I got there that I really wasn’t that good at Chinese. It was great, though, because I improved a lot. I also lived by myself and met a lot of people, so it was a great experience.
 
HC: What’s your favorite thing about St. Olaf?
ZH: That you can do anything if you want. Like, if you wanted to start an organization about – I don’t know – cheese, you could do it. That’s a great opportunity to have that I don’t think a lot of people recognize. And there are no societal constraints, which I love.
 
HC: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your four years at St. Olaf?
ZH: I would say to try everything, even if it’s bad, even if you think you’re not going to like it. You may actually like it, or it may look good on your resumé, or it may have some effect on the future that will be beneficial. It’s good to know what things are bad and what are good before you assume that.
 
HC: Any advice for St. Olaf women?
ZH: Don’t let anything inhibit you from doing what you want to do, and don’t succumb to inhibitors. That can be the easy way out even if it’s not right. Really, that advice is for all St. Olaf students, not just women.