by Faiz Syed

It was going to be a rough week ahead! I had a few major exams as well as some deadlines for my research. As I sat down to begin studying for my organic chemistry test, I was surprised to find an email from Senator Blake Tillery. Senator Tillery was a UGA 40 under 40 awardee who I was able to network with at a SPIA event earlier in the year. The email was an invitation to a symposium on rural healthcare hosted by the UGA Law School. As a premed student, I knew that this would be a wonderful educational opportunity as well as a way to continue networking. I was disappointed to learn that the event was on a Thursday from 9am-3pm, when I am normally busy attending classes. Still, I decided to click on the event link  in order to get a better idea of the symposium. That’s when all alarms went off in my head! Stacey Abrams was going to be the keynote speaker. Now I had to attend the event!

It was 11pm on Wednesday, and the event was going to begin the following morning. As I expected, registration was closed, but I knew I had to do whatever it took to get in. I immediately responded back to Senator Tillery’s original email and to my surprise, he replied back only minutes after. In his response, he said that he would claim me as one of his “staffers” to get me into the event. During the crazy twenty minutes that had just transpired, one of my friends who was “studying” with me witnessed my rollercoaster of emotions. As a huge fan of Stacey Abrams, she too wanted to attend the event. Now I had to try to finesse her in! We showed up the following morning at 8:45am and both claimed to be staffers to get through. As we rode the elevator up, we were giddy with excitement; we were about to meet our hero! We entered the room and realized that we were one of the few students in attendance. The room was filled with UGA law professors, healthcare executives, and representatives from the different medical schools in Georgia.

We grabbed a seat and before we knew it, Stacey Abrams was in the room. After a brief introduction, she was invited to the podium where she spoke of the lack of healthcare in rural Georgia. She spoke of the importance of medicaid expansion and how it was the solution to increase access to healthcare as well as provide jobs in rural Georgia. I was disappointed to learn where Georgia ranked in comparison to other states on a range of healthcare metrics. Did you know that 79 counties in Georgia do not have an OBGYN and we rank 46 in terms of the number of mental health care providers per capita? She discussed the importance of telemedicine as another solution increase access of healthcare in rural areas. Telemedicine is fascinating as it allows healthcare professionals to evaluate, diagnose and treat patients in remote locations using technology. Once Stacey Abrams finished the keynote address, she said that she had another event and immediately left the podium with her entourage. She was heading for the elevators and like any crazy fans, my friend and I chased after her. We somehow managed to sneak into the elevator with Stacey Abrams. Those ten seconds will be forever sacred between my friend and I because we were shaking with excitement. We didn’t know what to do. Before I could sneak a selfie, the elevator door opened and Stacey Abrams walked out. After taking a few steps, she turned around and asked us if we wanted a picture with her. “Of course”, we exclaimed and scurried to her like little kids running to Santa. We took the picture and thanked her for all of her work. As someone who is as politically engaged as I am, it was especially inspiring to meet a person who is making a difference that I hope to continue one day. Once again, thanks SPIA!!