Jabari Aaron McDonald is a 21-year-old student studying film and media at the University of California, Irvine (UCI). Often introduced as the most popular guy at UCI, the title hardly indicates the amount of work he has applied to become the respectable person he is today.
Jabari has completely immersed himself with campus involvements since entering UCI. Among other associations, he previously served as a community programmer and a resident advisor for Mesa Court (a housing community at UCI), an intern for the film committee of the Associated Students of UCI (ASUCI), a staffer for the UCI Student-Parent Orientation Program, and a campus representative.
In his final year of college, Jabari currently serves as a student coordinator for the Campus Representatives program and the assistant chief of staff for ASUCI.
During what little time he has to himself, he enjoys watching movies on Netflix, sipping on chocolate milkshakes, and improving his skills in photography.
Small Acts Can Have the Biggest Influence
As a campus representative (c-rep), Jabari provides tours of the UCI campus to prospective students and their families. However, these tours provide a far greater purpose than a leisurely stroll through the campus park accompanied by educational, albeit random, trivia (the campus park contains 33 species of eucalyptus and 11,121 trees, by the way).
Jabari’s own tours have significantly influenced the decisions of many freshman students to attend the university. Students often approach him and explain how excited they were about UCI after taking his tour. They often tell him,
“I took your tour. You’re the reason why I’m here.”
Plenty of us would love to play a significant role in helping others make life-changing decisions, but the idea of changing someone’s life has become so glamorized to the point where many of us believe such influence is outside of our capabilities. However, much like Jabari’s simple campus tours, we can influence the lives of others through small daily acts.
Now, as a student coordinator of the Campus Representatives program, Jabari is committed to leading the current team and developing the next group of campus representatives. In previous years, coordinators had as many as 300 applicants and narrowed it down to 40 new c-reps. Jabari and the two other student coordinators will essentially choose the people who will best represent UCI in the future.
“[All of] it’s stressful, but it’s the kind of stress I like. I best operate when I have a little bit of stress.”
Don’t Let Disappointment Limit Your Opportunities
As surprising as it may seem, Jabari did not initially fancy the idea of attending UCI and preferred to attend a “more prestigious” facility. However, with no other colleges to chose from, he really didn’t have much of a choice.
“I just had such an attitude about being [at UCI] and, I hate saying it, but I had the same case as many other freshmen. I found my places here, though.”
Upon accepting that he would be attending UCI, Jabari decided to change his attitude. Instead of spending his time complaining, he chose to see his new environment as an opportunity. He realized that, although it wasn’t the situation he had hoped for, it was up to him to make the most of it. He met a variety of optimistic individuals who “flipped his perception” of the university and encouraged him to take risks, helping him take advantage of his opportunities.
Hard Work Isn’t Communicated Through Popularity
Accompanying the continued growth and development of social media platforms, popularity has gained a large role in the daily life of college students. Students often measure their popularity by the number of Facebook likes, Tumblr notes, and Twitter retweets. Due to the large presence of social media, there is tremendous weight placed on the idea of popularity.
Jabari acknowledges that he is well-known, but any comments about his popularity make him exceptionally uncomfortable.
“I don’t want my defining trait to be popularity. There’s a lot more to me than that.”
Jabari values his hard working attitude much more than being well-known. Likewise, his ability to overcome his self-limiting thoughts is far more valuable than any number of Facebook likes.
Overcome Your Fears to Find UnParalleled Growth
Despite his apparent successes, Jabari has had his share of doubtful thinking. In the past, those doubtful thoughts prevented him from participating in activities that were out of his comfort zone. Activities he felt he could learn a lot from. His own self-doubt instilled a sense of fear in him, forcing him to stay within his comfort zone and stunting his own growth.
Growing up, Jabari developed a specific image of himself, strictly defining “what a person like him does and does not do.” When faced with a situation in which he would like to try something new, he often second-guessed his abilities and psyched himself into not participating. He would tell himself “I don’t do that. I can’t do that. I’m not supposed to do that.” Many of the things he wanted to do were declared off limits by himself.
“I don’t do that. I can’t do that. I’m not supposed to do that.”
At his high school, the associated student body had a commissioner of assemblies who was in charge of making announcements on stage during school rallies. Jabari recalls watching the commissioner of assemblies in action and wishing he could do the same. However, there was no way an “introverted, awkward kid” like him could stand on stage and speak to 3,000 students for even a minute.
Jabari didn’t apply to be the commissioner of assemblies until his senior year. He got the position.
“It was really stressful and difficult, but it was a large part of my growth process and learning to feel comfortable in front of people. It pushed me more than I ever wanted to be pushed. If I hadn’t done that, I don’t think I would have ever applied to be a tour guide.”
“It pushed me more than I ever wanted to be pushed.”
By taking on that challenge, Jabari allowed himself to be “out of character” and saw an exponential growth in his capabilities and his confidence. Since then, Jabari has continued to learn to face his fears and get the most out of his experiences.
Among other things, although he enjoys watching people dance, and enjoys dancing himself, Jabari was always terrified at the thought of dancing in front of people. Upon entering UCI, he had wanted to audition for a dance team, but couldn’t take the leap.
This past October, he auditioned for and was accepted into Modern Completely Insane Anteaters, an exhibition dance team at UCI.
If You Aren’t Improving, You’re Failing
According to Jabari,
“Failure is when you think you can’t learn from an experience.”
In Jabari’s context of failure, it’s difficult to fail. As long as you learn from each experience and each situation, you won’t fail. Things can go horribly wrong, but you can always take steps to learn from the experience and improve upon yourself. Just because you didn’t succeed in the manner which you’d prefer, doesn’t mean that you failed. Just continue to learn.
After a success, people often like to celebrate the things that went well. Jabari, on the other hand, is often the one to take a step back and reflect on what could have been done better to avoid future mistakes and inefficiencies.
Due to his attitude of constant rebuilding and reconstruction, Jabari has found opportunities to learn in even the most difficult and frustrating situations. When faced with a group he doesn’t enjoy working with, he would ask himself, “Why don’t I like how things are run?”
Through this thought process, Jabari is able to gain new knowledge from bad experiences. When it comes to working in a team, Jabari has learned the importance of learning the “to-do’s” as well as the “not-to-do’s.”
Jabari’s mindset of betterment stems from his desire to make the most of other peoples’ hard work.
It’s Not All About You
“I’m a product of so many people in my environment and my child rearing and I’m a reflection of so many other people than just myself. I’ve realized that a lot of people have worked hard and struggled to make sure that I get where I want to be. That’s one of my motivators. I don’t want peoples’ hard work to go to waste.”
“I’ve realized that a lot of people have worked hard and struggled to make sure that I get where I want to be.”
Despite his strict mentality, Jabari has learned to not be hard on himself and accepts that nothing is ever going to be perfect. There’s always room for improvement.
“I believe if you tried your best, that’s the best you can do.”
To this day, as he finishes off his last year in college, Jabari continues to work with the mantra that was instilled in him by his mom, “don’t half-ass it.”
Due to insecurities and fears, we often don’t let ourselves become completely immersed in what we do. We only dip our feet in the water yet hope to do something amazing when, in reality, we must put our entire effort into something to get the most out of it.
As Jabari would say, “If you’re gonna do something, don’t half-ass it. Do your best and if it doesn’t turn out good, figure out why it didn’t and what you can do better, and try again.”
You only fail when you choose to stop learning.
Mesa Court Housing – Resident Advisor for Viento
Mesa Court Housing – Community Programmer
Campus Representatives Program Student Coordinator
ASUCI Student Services Film Festivals Intern
ASUCI Assistant Chief of Staff
UCI SPOP Staffer (Tie-Dye & Phoenix)
Photo Sources: Jabari McDonald Photography
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