The future is now

Senior at MSU leads by example

By Bianca Kasawdish

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“There may be power in titles and status - but that alone does not make someone a leader,” says Mario Kakos.

Currently a senior at Michigan State University, Kakos has high hopes of making a difference long after he graduates. He is currently the Student Body President, majoring in political science and minoring in leadership of organizations.

A Michigan native, he is the seventh born of eight children in his family, with the goal of leaving people and places better than he found them. “I feel indebted to the people who have come before me and made my life easier. Because of this, I strive to make the most of any opportunity I'm given,” he says.

Kakos dreams of making a meaningful impact in the bigger picture, whether that takes the form of public service, a non-profit, or a corporation. He shares that he wants to help others realize they don’t need a title to be a leader or to make a difference in their community. He says, “I am open to things working out better than I can imagine.”

His drive began at an early age. His parents worked long hours in Detroit while raising eight children, and their struggle has shaped his life and deepened his humanity in a way they will never know. Inspired by his mother, Lillian migrated to the United States uneducated, illiterate and with nothing to her name. She learned how to drive before learning how to read, sharing stories of how she had to memorize the design of English letters so she could navigate roads.

“She’s the strongest, wisest, and most giving person I know. She’s come a long way since then and has shown me what hard work and determination can do to improve one’s life. My mother believes in standing firm no matter the circumstances and facing any challenge head on in order to grow from it,” he says. In turn, he learned firsthand what it means to be resourceful and resilient.

With that same resilience, he believes that the root of many issues in the world we live in today stem from a lack of education. “When an individual is equipped with the knowledge and information they need, they become more confident, more driven and inspired to do better for themselves and those around them. They learn about their likes and dislikes through exposure to different subjects and can move forward with what they’re passionate about,” he says.

This goes beyond reading and writing, and the difference can make an impact for generations to come. Kakos shares that it’s about setting a stage, a standard, one that is better than the one before and can set an example for the one after. He believes it is not only a privilege to do better, but a responsibility and duty because of the immense sacrifices our parents and families have made.

“Ultimately, it’s about uncovering the gifts that all of us have within. Education is not just going to school and studying for tests,” he explained. “It’s about the people, friends, teachers, mentors, and the overall experience of learning whether inside or outside of the classroom. It’s about the human connection and the valuable relationships that a child/individual will develop that will carry them through their journey in life.”

According to Kakos, mental health and well-being also carry importance. “Having a sound, healthy mind and positive disposition is just as important as having a healthy physical body,” he says. This all goes full circle- from eating well to getting enough rest to doing the things that make you happy.

He believes that people should not hesitate, feel embarrassed, ashamed, or judged to seek professional help if they need it. On the contrary, he encourages it. “It’s unfortunate that there’s still a stigma surrounding those who are struggling with their mental health and this is something I hope to help resolve one day with the help of others,” he says. 

Balancing it all isn’t easy. Kakos shares that ruthless prioritization is the only way balance is possible. Taking this even further, integration is the key.

When it comes to the one thing he wants to make a difference doing, he shares, “The individual that faithfully leads will uplift others through their example. If I can help shift the consciousness around what this means by exemplifying it in my day-to-day actions and see that others are positively affected by it, then I know I’m doing the right thing.”