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CLAS President Nissim Said: Came for the Food, and Stayed to Make a Difference

After four years in CLAS, Nissim Said is graduating in a few weeks and looks back at his work. PHOTO/ Zainab Iqbal

By Zainab Iqbal

Published: May 9th, 2018

“In my mind, I’m an asshole. But I think a lot of people say ‘nah, you’re really a nice guy.’ And I don’t know, I feel like an asshole. I feel like I’m very blunt, I’m very to the point, I’m not going to play games, I’m a tough guy. But I do care and I am passionate and I think that’s where the difference is.”

Nissim Said has been involved in College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) Student Government for four years. He joined because someone told him they needed a 15th person to run their slate. He was to be their last guy, if he accepted. Said was never civically engaged. He had gone to a yeshiva for 12 years, and believes he was very narrow-minded. But he said yes. Three years later, he ran for CLAS president and won.

The CLAS office is located on the third floor of the Student Center (SUBO).  Walk in, take a left, and you’ll see Said’s room. He’s nearing the end of his presidency; yet, there’s still a moment of pause when figuring out where to sit, as his desk is cluttered. There’s a Cards Against Humanity game on the big table along with several wine glasses, a red umbrella, and an apple pie cinnamon/vanilla scented candle, which, to be fair, looks like it has never been lit. It’s a nice day out so the CLAS president is wearing flip flips, white shorts, and his grey Alpha Epsilon Pi t-shirt. He’s also taken the liberty to devour two Subsational wraps and asked if I, a practicing Muslim, drink alcohol.

“I’m just asking,” he said. He made his very own kombucha—which indeed had a small percentage of alcohol in it.

He’s graduating in a few weeks and he’s both nervous and excited. He’s ready to move on, he said, but he is also a bit sentimental.

“I think CLAS this year did well. I think we surpassed the expectations of most students,” he said. “At least now they know who CLAS is, at least now they’ve seen some things.”

He credits his team for making strides in both transparency and advocacy, though he feels he personally did not reach his own expectations.

“I just had a million ideas. Everything some of these candidates were talking about like newsletters, those are ideas I wanted to do. We didn’t have the physical manpower to do everything,” he said. “But now we built a structure. We created a press secretary job and legislative director. We now created the structure to build those things I wanted to do but didn’t have the resources to do it.”

Said refers to his year as a rebuilding year as he worked to create a whole new system, improved on the resources, and began training students—something he believes is one of his biggest accomplishments.

 “We created a structure where anyone who’s anyone can serve,” he said. “The resources I’ve been writing, I hope will get those people who are passionate and motivated to learn what they need to do and how to do a perfect job and improve what they need to improve, so we don’t spend so much time wasting figuring things out. We’re just training people to lead. “

There are some things he wanted to accomplish, but did not. Campaigns such as Eat Healthy Week, Diversity Week, and a Clean Up BC Campaign are such things he wanted to get done but never got the chance, too. So he’s leaving it for Eytan Galanter, the next CLAS president. 

Said loves Galanter. In fact, Said was rooting for both him and Zunera Ahmed to win the presidency, especially because he’s worked with the two of them. Said praised Galanter’s ability to listen and ask for advice. But he encourages the new president to expand his imagination.

“Sometimes I think his imagination is a little bit limited. And I’ve gotta constantly tell him to look at the bigger picture, try to forget about what he think is possible and dream bigger,” he said.

That’s not to mention the controversy between Said and Himansu Pal, who was a candidate for CLAS president. Said and Pal had a little quarrel on Facebook regarding answering questions about Pal’s campaign.

“It’s not because I don’t like Himansu, I like him as a person. When he ran against me last year and lost, I offered to train him,” he said. “We made this training program, he showed up for one, joined our group chats, and never did anything. Never got involved. So when you give someone an opportunity and are willing to teach them and they refuse it, and then they come back and say ‘now I’m ready,’ well I’m kinda skeptical.”

Being a part of CLAS for four years taught Said to be empathic and compassionate.

“I didn’t really know the bigger world and how many issues there are, especially facing women, facing people of color, facing other religions and backgrounds,” he said.

So he opened himself to those issues. Through his work he realized that there were a lot of problems and wondered what he was doing to help out. He believes he’s a totally different person now because of CLAS and its opportunities. Though he doesn’t want to be boastful, he believes that he indeed impacted CLAS. He believes that this year, CLAS worked to set up the potential for this student government to be the best student government across the country.

“I couldn’t take it to the promised land, but I’ve set it up for the next person to do so.”

Said will be moving to Chicago to live with his girlfriend, finally ending the distance in their long-time relationship. And on June 15, he will be beginning his new job with PricerwaterhouseCoopers (PwC), a tax firm. It’s a job he’s locked through his internships during his junior year. At this company, Said will be working with investment, management, and tax.

Said never needed CLAS on his resume to get a job (as his job was already lined up before he even became CLAS president). But he still believes he might one day go into politics or public service, in which case, CLAS would have taught him plenty.

“I didn’t come into the presidency because I wanted to be in politics,” he said. “I think that’s true for a lot of people in CLAS. Not a lot of us want to be politicians. We just want to do good stuff and then we learn to love politics and learn to love service.”

Said said he wants to be remembered as the dude who changed things up. He acknowledges that he isn’t perfect, nor did he accomplish everything he had set to do.

“Being a part of CLAS was most definitely, 100 percent worth it,” he said. “Every year has been a learning experience and for that I am forever grateful.”

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