Senior Landon Coles: ‘Not a moment, a movement’

Student government President Landon Coles throws up the U in front of the Shalala Student Center during Family Weekend on Sept. 25, 2021.
Student government President Landon Coles throws up the U in front of the Shalala Student Center during Family Weekend on Sept. 25, 2021. Photo credit: Jared Lennon

Student Government President Landon Coles is on a mission to leave a lasting legacy of service, inspiration and style. Three years ago, as a freshman at the University of Miami, Coles– a self proclaimed “Florida man” –walked onto campus with a vision and desire to make an impact, unaware of just how far that vision would take him.

“It feels bigger than what it is,” Coles said, referring to UM. “The more you walk it, the more you traverse it, the more you make it your home, the smaller it becomes, the more intimate it becomes.”

But with the end of his college career in sight, Coles says he has grown from an unsure freshman, clean shaven and clad in patterned, colorful shirts, into a confident leader on the 239-acre campus he knows as well as anyone.

“There’s no part of this campus I feel uncomfortable in now. Every part of this campus feels like home.”

Coles says that finding his place at UM began with getting involved, setting goals and networking.

“I believe in manifestation,” Coles said. “Speaking it over your life and then walking in it and acting on those words that you have put out there in the atmosphere. So, that’s what I do, I speak it and then I walk it.”

As a first-year student, Coles promised himself that he would immediately join two organizations on campus: the Black Student Union (BSU) and Student Government. Coles also promised himself that he would eventually serve as each club’s president. In his last year at UM, Coles officially reached his goal when he was elected student government president, one year after serving as the BSU president as a junior.

Coles says his high school experience prepared him well for his roles at UM; he served as a member of student government for four years and was elected class president for three consecutive years.

“It was just something that’s always come naturally to me,” Coles said. “And I have had a ball doing it… That means more to me than anything, inspiring other people to be their best selves on this campus and do great things.”

During what has been a tumultuous year in the university’s history, Coles says student leadership is critical to maintaining a well-run campus. While he is happy that he’s had the opportunity to help lead the SGA response to COVID-19, Coles said he credits the UM community for rising to the challenge.

“I want people to know that I really do believe nobody operates in isolation, nobody can function alone, we all need one another,” Coles said. “I am very proud of the diverse team that I have and how it is that we are carrying ourselves.”

University employees have taken note of the commitment Coles has to community action and his belief in his organization’s ability to make positive changes.

“I think that he has really transformed into recognizing how he can actually make change with those around him,” said Heather Stevens, associate director of divisional initiatives and student advocacy and SGA advisor. “A lot of that drive has transitioned from being purely internal to being external towards the community and seeking out in the community what’s needed”

Despite the challenges that COVID-19 has posed to Coles and SGA, Coles says his passion for leadership is as strong as it has ever been. Now, he is determined to inspire the next generation of leaders with his words, actions, commitment and style.

“I’m going to be that face for that student,” Coles said. “When I’m interacting with first year students, the immediate thing that’s in the back of my head is ‘I am probably talking to the next student government president, I am likely talking to the next head of Greek life, I am talking to the next leader who I am going to pass the baton to when I walk across that stage.’”

Stevens said she feels Coles has succeeded in his mission of inspiring future leaders, so far.

“I think it was very clear from first meeting Landon that he is very passionate about what he does and that he’s very driven to make change and create an inclusive environment for those around him,” Stevens said.

Coles said he hopes he inspires future student leaders to not only serve their community, but to stay true to themselves throughout their journeys. Coles wore a solid black suit with accents of gold to his inauguration last spring, a testament to his unflinching individuality as a person and a leader.

“Style is my thing, because it is my way through which I can be different,” Coles said. “It is also my way in which I can express myself and break the mold and barrier of what people expect of not only a politician, but as a black man, that you can be in these spaces and you don’t have to water yourself down.”

While his journey has only just begun, his time at UM is nearing an end, and as a leader both on and off campus, Coles said he will continue to make positive change in honor of those that made his success possible.

“I am the sum total of all the people who have poured into me over the years,” Coles said. “I am because we are. I was able to do it because of the people who pushed me, and even though you look at me and I’m here as one person, I represent thousands and thousands of people who poured themselves into me.”