Fourth-year spotlight: Eric McDaniel


When fourth-year College student Eric McDaniel came to U.Va., he contemplated transferring. The now former Student Council President found a reason to stay courtesy of a kind stranger during an all-nighter in Clemons.
Image courtesy of Joe Choi

Richmond native and outgoing Student Council president Eric McDaniel initially contemplated leaving the University when he arrived in the fall of 2010. Living far away from Grounds, having little in common with his suitemates and not finding a niche of friends led McDaniel to seriously consider transferring.

“I thought about how to find my place at the University,” McDaniel said. “The biggest challenge I faced was finding what I wanted to do at U.Va. [in addition to] trying to establish myself and think about who I wanted to be at college.”

But an act of kindness from a stranger helped to put a new perspective on what life at the University of Virginia really means.

During spring finals of his first year, on the night before his Shakespeare final, McDaniel was cramming in Clemons. As the hours ticked past, people slowly dissipated out of the library, until McDaniel found himself still working at 6 a.m. with just one girl also trucking away on the first floor.

Looking for an energy jolt, he went to the vending machine to buy a Mountain Dew, but the machine ate his $1.50. He returned to his seat, without a Mountain Dew, and put his head on the table feeling beyond defeated.

Twenty minutes later, a tap on the shoulder woke him and the girl stood there with a Mountain Dew, wishing him good luck on his exams.

“When I was thinking about transferring and I wasn’t doing well [in school], this was an example of whole-hearted kindness which exemplifies the University as a whole,” McDaniel said. “[This Mountain Dew] literally and figuratively gave me the energy I needed to do well. I have tried to exemplify [this kindness] in my time at the University.”

McDaniel has certainly embodied this character through his 40 hours a week dedicated to Student Council, along with working as a First Year Seminar senior facilitator and the chair of the Undergraduate Humanities Initiative.

As Council president, experiencing the dichotomy of being a leader at the University as well as a student, McDaniel spent large amounts of time increasing the organization’s diversity and inclusion.

“Just getting to meet new students who are passionate about what they are doing was the most rewarding part of my time [as Council president],” McDaniel said.

At one point during his second year, McDaniel recalls an older member of Council saying, “Council exists to serve those who serve upon it.”

McDaniel disagreed — he did not want Council to be perceived as insular; he wanted it to be more accessible to the everyday student.

“Council in the past wasn’t representative of its communities,” McDaniel said. “By the time I left the organization, it was more diverse in every sense than when I joined. The members were committed to it as a whole and believed in the organization more than their predecessors.”

In his time on council, McDaniel worked in cooperation with other organizations to fight for the restoration of all-grant aid packages offered through AccessUVa, the University’s financial aid program. During the summer, he worked with other students to improve visibility around AccessUVa, part of an effort that helped to attract major donors to support the cause.

“I am incredibly proud of that work because I think it was the right thing to do and it was a great example of a new type of Student Council that advocates for all students,” McDaniel said.

Reflecting on his journey at the University, McDaniel said his time in Charlottesville has prepared him for what comes after graduation by teaching him the right things to care about.

“The most important thing is not receiving the degree or the grades, but the honor and kindness and trust that you can take a stand on,” McDaniel said. “I think that is the most important lesson I have learned from the University.”

After graduation, McDaniel plans on returning to the University to receive his master’s in English.

related stories