After her parents fled from Uganda and political oppression in the 1970s, Shayli Patel has worked every day to make them proud.
“They’ve always taught me to do the best I can,” Patel said. “My mom and dad taught me — whatever I wanted to do, do it with 110 percent.”
The first time Patel heard about SG was through her older sister, Ishani. By the time Shayli Patel came to UF, she knew she wanted to get involved.
“She told me UF was an amazing place and I had to put myself out there to find a community,” said Patel, who is running for vice president with Challenge Party.
The UF economics junior ran with Access Party in Spring 2016 for a sophomore Senate seat and lost. In Summer 2016, she served in a replacement seat for Summer C and became the Minority Party Leader.
Patel has been involved with the Indian Student Association, Gatorship, the Office of Asian Pacific Islander American Affairs and has been a resident assistant.
The first time Patel remembers standing up for something she believed in, it cost her a close friend. She was shocked to see her best friend making Islamophobic comments on Facebook the summer after her freshman year in high school, but she argued back.
“I take risks in putting myself out there and fighting for what I believe in,” Patel said.
Former Access Party President Praveen Varanasi met her in 2016 when the two were campaigning.
He said he remembers seeing Patel drenched from rain but still standing outside trying to talk to students, walking them to class with her umbrella.
Varanasi said Patel taught him how to be a better leader.
“I think that Shayli leads through compassion, she leads through love, she leads because she wants the best in people, not because she wants people to view her as the best,” he said.
David Enriquez went from living in a shack in Buena Vista, Cuba, to meeting former President Barack Obama in the White House when he was about 17.
“My American Dream was becoming true,” the UF philosophy junior said.
The Cuban immigrant said he’d never forget when his mother told him they’d won the Cuban lottery to go to America. It was a bittersweet adventure for him when he hopped on the plane. He remembers looking out, only 6 years old, feeling his stomach sink.
“I was struggling with the very difficult truth that no immigrant really wants to leave their shores,” he said.
On July 4, 2003, he landed on American soil.
“I proudly call it my independence day,” Enriquez said. “I thought the fireworks were for me.”
Enriquez has served as the chief of staff to current Student Body Vice President Mario Agosto and is the vice president of programming in the Hispanic Student Association. He’s now running for vice president with Impact Party.
With the political oppression Enriquez and his family experienced in Cuba, he said he learned about the responsibility to help others.
“For me, public service is not a pastime, it’s my career choice,” Enriquez said.
Enriquez’s mentor, Stephen Sessums, said Enriquez’s interests in religion, politics and philosophy grew since the moment they met, about seven years ago when he volunteered to be his mentor through the Hillsborough Education Foundation.
“He was quite ambitious to make his mark and contribute to make the world a better place,” the 83-year-old said. “Even though he was a leader, he was shy. But if you were to describe David, you wouldn’t describe him as shy today.”
At 7 years old, Bijal Desai was held at gunpoint, forced to watch his father and uncle get assaulted.
Desai was sitting in his grandfather’s Indian spice shop, Fargo Trading, in Cape Town, South Africa, around closing time. Then, about six men walked in pretending to buy an item, drew their guns and demanded money. His uncle and father were beaten, he said.
Earlier in 2003, his cousin and dad were held hostage in his cousin’s soda factory, Double O, where they were demanded of anything of value.
The two attacks inspired Desai’s family to move to the U.S. in the summer of 2004.
Desai said he had a difficult time adjusting. On his first day in the third grade, he asked for a rubber and was given a detention. In Cape Town, a rubber meant an eraser.
In 2012, Desai received protected status through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.
“One of the reasons I’m running is because I’m publicly able to express that I’m a DACA student because I have that much confidence that I’ll be safe,” he said. “But I want to use any power I have to make sure I can be an advocate for people in the same situation that I am.”
Desai founded the Gator Civitan Club, a service organization. He was also president for Volunteers for International Student Affairs at UF. He is now running as Inspire Party’s Student Body vice presidential candidate.
Desai’s roommate, Nihir Patel, 21, met Desai in the Indian Student Association’s freshman leadership experience.
“He’s been so welcoming, kind and caring,” Patel said.
Patel said he’s learned a lot about dedication and planning from Desai. Patel, a UF computer science junior, said last spring when Desai was studying for the LSAT, he’d get up at 4 a.m. to study for his exam.
“He’s always got his eyes two weeks, a month, two months ahead,” he said.
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that Shayli Patel’s father and mother came to the U.S. in the 1980s from England and Canada, respectively. Her parents left Uganda in the 1970s.