Matthew Diaz’s first words after being sworn in as the 52nd student body president of the University of South Florida, were: “Can everybody see me over the podium?”
The 5-foot-5 Diaz said outgoing President Cesar Hernandez and Vice President Spencer Montgomery “have left very large shoes for me to fill,” as well as for incoming student body Vice President Zachary Johnson
“I’m going to try and grow my little eight-and-a-half-sized-foot shoes to occupy your shoes,” Diaz said. “I’m going to try hard and Zach and I are going to try hard to make our mark on this institution.”
With resumes that include philanthropy, Greek involvement, prior Student Government (SG) experience and campus involvement, more will be demanded of the two in what may be a rocky 2011-12 academic year.
“Next year is going to be a hard year,” Diaz said. “It’s going to be a tough battle.”
Diaz has already had a taste of office. Saturday, Diaz participated in a Florida Student Association (FSA) meeting as a proxy for Hernandez. The FSA is an organization comprised of each student body president from the 11 Florida state universities.
At the FSA meeting, major issues facing university students were discussed including a bill that would permit licensed individuals to carry handguns on campus, Diaz said in an interview Monday.
“It’s every American’s right to bear arms, but you just look back at horrific instances, at Columbine and even more recently with Virginia Tech,” he said. “We have to be more proactive so nothing like this happens again, and preventing firearms on campus is a first step towards making it so nothing like that can happen here.”
Diaz said he would also fight attempts to significantly increase tuition and lessen the impact of state funding cuts that may be incurred by the University.
“I think obviously with budget cuts we’re going to see an increase in tuition, but it shouldn’t be 15 percent in one year, it shouldn’t be 10 percent, it shouldn’t even be 5 percent, it should be very small increments where it isn’t such a hit on the students,” he said. “To do 15 percent like that, that’s going to hurt a lot of students. If they think they can do 15 percent this year, they’re going to think they can do 15 percent next year.”
At the inauguration, Hernandez said he already had a good opinion of Diaz following a debate between the two in the 2010 student body elections.
“I’m not afraid to say Matt Diaz is going to do an incredible job this year,” he said.
Under their campaign slogan of enacting a “Total Bull Movement,” Diaz and Johnson won the four-ticket February election outright.
“No matter how lofty our goals might be, (as in) that Total Bull Movement, to be truly successful we must actively listen and sincerely recognize the student interest,” Johnson said.
Diaz and Johnson were sworn in to their new offices by SG Supreme Court Chief Justice Lynn Kuznit, and vowed to “represent the student body to the best of (their) ability” as the incoming president and vice president.
Hernandez and Montgomery will retain their official positions until May 6, at which time Diaz and Johnson will assume their new roles and responsibilities.
Diaz put out a rallying call to “every student to leave a mark on their university, to leave a legacy.”
“We really want to encourage students to give back to this university as we have,” he said. “I promise to fight every day for the student body, but we need your help.”