By David Ertischek ’01
For 19 years, Sharon Duffy has been advising Emerson College’s Student Government Association. That means that some of the students she advised this semester weren’t even born when she began her role.
SGA members surprised Duffy at their last meeting of the semester with balloons spelling out her name, a photo slideshow, and celebratory music – plus a cake thanking Duffy for overseeing an estimated 504 SGA meetings.
“I’d like to think of Sharon as the Emersonian Mom — knows all the answers, has eyes in the back of her head, wisest amongst us all, yet sweet, open, and humble about it all,” said Raz Moayed ’20, executive president of SGA for 2019-2020. “She is someone wonderful who always is thinking ahead and for the best possible solution for each and every party involved. Her main intention always is to be learning more about the ways in which her position can make Emerson an easier and more accepting place for all.”
SGA’s all-knowing mom is not leaving Emerson, but has been elevated to a new role for the College.
Most recently she was the assistant vice president for student affairs, and before that she was the dean of students, the associate dean of students, and the director of the Student Union (throwback alert — when it was at 96 Beacon Street!). And in each role, she requested to stay on as the advisor to SGA.
Unlike most SGAs advisors, who are commonly junior level staff members or grad students, Duffy was a senior level administrator who provided time, access, perspective, and experience. She felt those attributes contributed to SGA’s effectiveness in representing the needs of the study body.
Duffy is now the assistant vice president for student success, and will retain oversight of the offices of Student Accessibility Services and Student Care and Support. Her new position began in October, but she wanted to stay on as SGA advisor through the semester.
Being part of SGAs seems to be part of Duffy’s makeup. Before coming to Emerson, she served as an SGA advisor at Simmons College and the Savannah College of Art and Design.
“I myself served as SGA treasurer at my undergrad institution [University of Massachusetts Amherst] and that is how I learned of my interest in pursuing a career in higher education administration,” said Duffy.
And for many of the students it’s not going to be easy to say goodbye to Duffy.
“I don’t think we will understand the full extent of her impact on SGA until she is gone,” said Julia Stanton ’21, executive secretary of SGA. “She is definitely one of the guardian angels of Emerson College, and has put countless hours into not only SGA but the improvement of everyone’s experiences here. Words can’t describe what she means to us, but we were so lucky to have her as our advisor!”
SGA Spiritual Life Commissioner Ann Zhang ’20 said she can talk with Duffy whenever she needs support or suggestions. Added Zhang, “I love her for her passion and admire her for her executive abilities and her hardworking spirits. She’s both a mentor and a friend that I will cherish forever.”
SGA Executive Vice President Will Palauskas ’21 said that in many ways Duffy also performed as the organizations historian as she served as a link between SGAs past and present.
“Without her, we would just be a group of students discussing possibilities, but she helps turn our ideas into action,” said Arasha Lalani ’21, 2021 class president.
Duffy said some of those ideas that turned into tangible actions by SGA during the last 10 to 15 years include: bringing forth the gender inclusive housing initiative; banning the sale of water bottles on campus to support sustainability efforts; and maintaining the academic initiative that includes departmental seniors providing an inventory of each department through a comprehensive document presented to the provost, deans, and department chairs.
Although for Duffy it’s hard to name a single thing that stands out as the accomplishment she’s most proud during her time.
“All the success has been built on SGAs of the past. I’m really proud that SGA has grown to the size it is, and the level of impact they have with the relationships they have across campus with the board of trustees, the provost, vice presidents, alumni, and president,” said Duffy. “I’m really proud they are honoring the past by doing research instead of jumping to conclusions.”
And even though she won’t be attending SGA meetings every Tuesday from 2:00 to 3:45 pm, she will stay up to date by live streaming meetings and reading meeting minutes. She will also continue to meet with SGA leadership in her new role.
“I’m going to miss the conversation in joint sessions. There’s always some comment that someone says that sparks a whole other conversation. It’s very organic how it happens,” said Duffy.
Come next semester, Duffy is handing off her advisor duties to a familiar face – Jason Meier, director of student engagement and success, who’s worked with Duffy for nine years and knows he’s got big shoes to fill.
“Sharon kept things moving forward for years with kindness, compassion and grace. SGA is complicated and Sharon makes it look easy,” said Meier. “There’s a foundation laid for success and I’m excited to carry on her work.”