Amazing Students

Hunter Smith

Hunter Smith is passionate about “increasing access and opportunity in higher education especially for students from single-parent homes and rural backgrounds.” (Photo by Chad Osburn/UGA)

Hunter Smith was born a Bulldog in rural Georgia, and after four years of academic and public service excellence on campus, he’s capping his undergraduate career as the student speaker at spring Commencement. But he’ll be back as a Georgia Law student committed to serving others and improving the world.


Jesup, GA

High school:

Wayne County High School

Current employment:

I have been a resident assistant in Lipscomb Hall for the last three years.

Family ties to UGA:

My mother and father were first-generation college students and high school sweethearts. While they started their education at smaller schools, they married in their third year and then both transferred to UGA. A year and half later, I was born in what was then Athens Regional Hospital. My parents would take turns going to class and watching me, they would drive around Athens and study aloud to soothe me to sleep, and sometimes when my dad had tests, I would have to attend my mom’s chemistry class — no wonder I hate chemistry!

Expected graduation:

Spring 2018

Degree objective:

Bachelor of Arts in Political Science with minors in Sociology and Leadership in Student Affairs.

Other degrees:

Certificates in Personal and Organizational Leadership and Applied Politics and Public Affairs Communication

University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships:

In addition to my political science education, I have had the chance to be a part of four other academic programs here at UGA. I was a part of the inaugural class of the Certificate in Public Affairs Communication, which is a partnership between Grady and SPIA and allows students to learn directly from practitioners in the field of politics and public affairs to create a more streamlined transition from theory to skills and practice and ultimately career applications. Additionally, I had the honor to be a part of the first and, for now, the only cohort in the minor in student affairs, which truly bolstered my interest in higher education and helped me create educational opportunities through some of my extracurricular involvements. I also minored in sociology and earned a Certificate in Personal and Organizational Leadership from the Institute for Leadership Advancement. I am also a member of the Honors Program and was named a Crane Leadership Scholar for my balance of leadership development and academic excellence. I am also humbled and honored to graduate in May as a First Honor Graduate.

As a freshman, I ran and won the office of president on the Myers Community Council and earned a love for University Housing. That year, I started as a desk assistant in Myers Hall and then the next year I became a resident assistant in Lipscomb, where I still work. In addition to serving as a resident assistant, I also stepped into the role of RA co-advisor of Mell-Lipscomb, a position I pioneered three years ago when the professional advisor stepped down and they needed a temporary replacement. I have continued in this role as an opportunity to directly help freshmen develop as leaders, students and as people.

In addition to housing, I have served the University Judiciary as an advisor/advocate for the past three and a half years helping ensure that the student conduct process is fundamentally fair for both the students in the process and the potentially affected community. My freshman year, I was named to the Dean William Tate Honor Society and inducted as a member of the Phi Kappa Literary Society. I have also served in the capacity of the Arch Society for the past two years and have had the honor to humbly serve the university and help train the next inducted class of the Arch Society. Finally, always seeking to improve, I was chosen as a senior to serve as a director of government relations in the Student Government Association, a position that bridges my passions of higher education and government by allowing me to serve as liaison between the student body and elected local, state and federal officials.

Through Honors in Washington, I was able to work two congressional internships this past summer and grow professionally and personally in one of the most interesting cities of the world. I have also been selected for the UGA chapters of the Blue Key and Phi Beta Kappa Honor societies. Furthermore, I was selected as the 2018 undergraduate spring Commencement student speaker alongside the alumni speakers: Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood of Lady Antebellum. Even despite these amazing experiences and accolades, I still believe the greatest highlight of my university experience has been the amazing people I have met and had the chance to work with in my time here: my residents who have ended up teaching me so much, professors, advisors and mentors who have challenged me, colleagues that have supported me, and friends that remind me that all of my hard work will one day be worth it.

I chose to attend UGA because …

Since I was born in Athens, you can really say that my entire life has revolved around UGA. I’m pretty sure my first baby romper had a little “G” on it and though my first words were “Mama” my second and third had to be “Go Dawgs.” As a kid I would tell people that one day, I too would attend UGA just like my parents and I never missed an opportunity to learn more about the university especially on our annual family trips to Athens. UGA was never my backup school; it was my dream school. Then in 2007 my father died of a brain stem hemorrhagic stroke at the age of 32. At first UGA seemed like an impossibility. It was more than four hours from my tiny hometown and I wanted to be close to care for my now widowed mom and siblings and the cost seemed too great for a single parent family’s income. Georgia’s Zell Miller program helped me take care of the costs and my senior year of high school my mom encouraged me to chase my own dreams as that is what my father would have wanted — so I did. In many ways returning to Athens and UGA has been like coming home and living the legacy of my parents’ hard work and dedication in their pursuit of a better life for my siblings and me.

My favorite things to do on campus are …

In addition to cheering on the Dawgs, I enjoy hanging out at Lipscomb Hall, my home for the past three years, catching up with friends at Bolton or Tate, or exploring some new part of campus.

When I have free time, I like …

In the rare opportunity that I have some free time I enjoy watching Netflix, hanging out and talking with my residents and friends, playing video games, and calling my family to catch up.

The craziest thing I’ve done is …

… go to Peru as a 14-year-old. Before I entered my freshman year of high school a colleague of my mom’s, a world history teacher, invited me to go on an educational trip to Peru for nine days. As a student of history and avid fan of Indiana Jones, I jumped at the opportunity. In hindsight, I was going to an unknown jungle terrain with practically strangers as the only person I knew before the trip was the teacher and then only as a family friend. It was the experience of a lifetime and I matured a lot on the trip, but in addition to the expanded worldview and emotional development I also managed to walk away with a life of hilarious stories on my misadventures and a permanent scar on my elbow. All in all, I passed out due to altitude sickness in the Temple of the Sun, got motion sickness on a moving train much to the dismay of some disgruntled French passengers that had the misfortune of being seated next to me, got a cramp while hiking and had to be wheelchaired up a mountain, and slipped on my shower shoes leaving me with a gash that needed stiches in a foreign country with little access to medical care. I also hiked ancient trails and became embedded in the rich cultural heritage of Peru and even ate octopus, alpaca and guinea pig. Needless to say, it has been one of the craziest events of my entire life.

My favorite place to study is …

… my bedroom in Lipscomb Hall — it’s the perfect balance of study spaces. Since I have a private room as an RA, it’s a perfect place to escape the world, but there is also always someone around to distract me with a study break when I need it.

Hunter Smith

Hunter Smith will be the student speaker at the spring 2018 Commencement ceremonies. (Photo by Chad Osburn/UGA)

My favorite professor is …

I have had so many amazing professors I do not think I could narrow it down to one. Three of the professors who have made the biggest impact in my life have been Dr. Audrey Haynes, Dr. Charles Bullock and Professor Vanessa Swenson.

Dr. Haynes is an incredible professor who is not only an expert in her field, but also takes great care to get to know her students personally. Dr. Haynes serves as the director of the Applied Politics Program in which I had the distinct honor to be in the inaugural class. In addition to having Dr. Haynes as an instructor in two courses, she has served as a mentor since I have known her. It was through her encouragement that I found two internships in D.C. last summer and her intellectual challenge to refine my passions and skills into a future career pathway.

Dr. Bullock is somewhat of a legend at UGA and in the field of political science. My sophomore year, I had a chance to take his “Southern Politics and Legislative Process” classes, considered to be some of the most difficult in the political science major. This was the first time I understood how rewarding academically challenging courses could be the most enjoyable and rewarding experiences. His classes were the first papers I had to write and at the same the most intense I have written in my academic career thus elevating my writing style to a level I am unsure I would have ever attained alone. He also encouraged me to pursue original research in both of his courses, which truly highlighted my academic experience at UGA. He has also served as a steadfast mentor and encouraged me to continue to pursue my dreams and excel further.

My junior year, I took linguistics on a whim hoping to fulfill a credit with a fun elective. I got so much more than I bargained for. Professor Swenson is an incredible professor who provides her students with an easy to understand and retain understanding of very complex aspects of linguistics, while also pouring into their personal lives outside of the classroom. I would arrive to class early and stay late to talk to Professor Swenson about linguistics, life, and most of all: politics. When I shared my love of politics and hopeful future of public service, Professor Swenson didn’t shy away. Instead she challenged me to fully explicate my views and explore my own thought processes rather than buying into the prevailing views of the world. Most importantly she encouraged me to never give up on my dreams of public office and has been one of my biggest cheerleaders since taking her class.

If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with …

… probably my dad. I would give anything if I could share one more afternoon with him and get to properly say goodbye. Since I was so young when he passed I would have so much to ask him about that my 11-year-old brain could not comprehend at the time of his passing. Most importantly I would want to know what he thought of the man I have become and my life’s path.

If I knew I could not fail, I would …

… run for public office. Since I was young, I have been intrinsically fascinated by politics and the government. I would devote my life to public service and find ways to improve the daily lives of many Americans. Most notably I would pursue educational reform and rural economic development by creating higher education grants for rural students who plan to return to their hometowns and help revitalize the local economy.

If money was not a consideration, I would love to …

… start a scholarship fund for rural students to pursue higher education at UGA, as my parents and I did. Recognizing my own fortune and that at one time in my life my biggest obstacle to higher education was money, I seek to create access and opportunity in higher education through scholarships. The Christopher P. Smith scholarship fund would be set up for students pursuing careers in agriculture or forestry. The Tanya L. Smith scholarship would be for young women to pursue STEM careers or science education. Finally, the Hunter G. Smith scholarship would be for students seeking to enter into a life of government or public service.

What is your passion and how are you committed to pursuing it?

I am committed to serving others and improving the world around me through my own service and leadership. After getting my law degree, I hope to work in areas of law that can improve the lives of people such as educational, constitutional, or human and civil rights law. I am also passionate about increasing access and opportunity in higher education especially for students from single-parent homes and rural backgrounds.

After graduation, I plan to …

… attend the UGA School of Law as a Georgia Scholar while also earning my M.P.A. degree here specializing in higher education administration. After I finish up, I would like to return to Congress and work as a legal counsel for a member or the higher education committees. I then hope to work for UGA’s Office of Government Relations and perhaps move into administration. After giving back to the institution that has given me so much, I hope to run for public office myself and develop educational reform across the state of Georgia and entire country.

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be …

… opening the eyes of one young man to a whole new world. My junior year, I had the opportunity to give a tour that changed my life. On this tour, I had a group of eighth grade students from Metro Atlanta with underprivileged backgrounds. I gave my usual tour pointing out buildings and sharing tales about my time at UGA. At one point in the tour I stopped to answer questions and one boy raised his hand, he looked at me squarely and said, “So I can go here?” I gave a quick, “Yes, of course you can,” to which he responded, “No one has ever told me I could come here.” In that moment, I realized that while that young man and I differed in many ways, we had similar stories and he, as I had once, lived in a world where college seemed like something unattainable. After the tour, I stayed behind to talk individually with the students and to encourage them to pursue their dreams. This singular event changed my entire view of UGA and my life and I decided to dedicate my life to increasing higher education access and opportunity.