Lillian Rojas’ people skills are bona fide, and come from a place in everyday America: working behind a fast food counter.
In fact, the third-year scholar at the University of Virginia used the skills she learned in high school earlier this month as she participated in a final interview for one of the most effecting positions a student can hold.
Seated at a large table in the president’s conference room in Madison Hall, Rojas fielded questions from a potentially intimidating group: the executive committee of the Board of Visitors.
She’d made it to the final round of interviews hoping to become the next student member of the University’s governing body, known around Grounds simply as the BOV.
Rojas had never met any of the board members and knew she wanted to make a good first impression. She was also determined to distinguish herself from the other finalists.
She took an interesting approach. When asked a question, she prefaced her answer with a story about herself.
“Any opportunity that I had, I really wanted to highlight … what made me unique. What made me, me,” she said in a matter-of-fact way. “I didn’t just want to give them a rundown of what I would be like if I was to be the student BOV” member.
Leaning into that approach, Rojas made a gutsy move. “At one point, I added in a little joke,” she recalled. “To not only help me lighten up the room, but also just kind of like testing to see how that would go.”
That’s when her experience of working four years at a Gainesville Burger King kicked in. As she was explaining her work experience, she gave them a tip: Always order the original chicken sandwich. It’s that good.
Board members chuckled all around. The ice was broken.
Democracy in Action
Rojas came to UVA determined to continue the involvement she had in politics in her aptly named alma mater, Patriot High School in Prince William County.
“The news was just always on in my house and my parents were always very open with political discussions and it very much kind of embedded in me and my siblings,” she said. “Like, we can make our own decisions and have our own thoughts because my parents didn’t always see eye-to-eye on things.”
Once she got to high school, Rojas founded a Young Democrats chapter and knew she’d want to join the group at UVA. As policy chair, one of her priorities was to nurture a good relationship with UVA’s College Republicans. In 2021, she was elected to Student Council to represent the College of Arts & Sciences, UVA’s largest school. Rojas also was most recently chair of the Representative Body for the 2022-23 term.
Rojas said she plans to use her consensus-building skills in her new role as the student member of the BOV.
“I think anybody that knows me knows that I’ve always been very bipartisan and very open to working with people who disagree with me,” she said, adding that she always strives to find common ground “in a way that benefits everybody.”
Rojas is especially passionate about student safety, which she said is “a very prevalent issue right now,” after a recent shooting on the Corner and November’s gun violence that took the lives of students Devin Chandler, D’Sean Perry and Lavel Davis Jr.
Referring to the notifications that go out after an event, she said, “The UVA Alerts are very real and we’re paying attention,” she said. “I think it’s important for the board to know what those feelings look like here on Grounds, how students are processing what’s happening, how it’s affecting us.
“I don’t have a solution of how to solve that. I think it’s a very multifaceted problem,” she went on. “Going into next year, if it’s still prevalent, I think it is something that the board needs to continue to hear about.”
UVA on Tuesday announced the formation of a Community Safety Working Group to address gun violence and public safety concerns.
Rojas said the University has seen “a lot of major changes in the past two years, especially with honor.” She was referring to the year-upon-year votes on the honor code, with the most recent ballot resulting in a new multi-sanction system which considers expulsion as a possible sanction for lying, cheating or stealing.
“I think it’s important to convey to the board that, ‘Yes, there are changes that are happening and they are changes that may not always be getting the most positive reviews from alumni who may view them in a different way,’” Rojas said. “But this is what modern-day student self-governance looks like. This is what it looks like for students in 2023 to embrace student self-governance.”
Rojas, a double major in public policy and leadership and religious studies, begins her term June 1, succeeding current student BOV member Lily Roberts.
University News Associate Office of University Communications
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June 5, 2023