The 65th: “We are here to electrify campus” Niseem says

Niseem performs at a conference in Atlanta. Photo credit: Contributed photo: Niles Niseem

An eight-year old Niles Niseem played an exceptional Jackie Robinson.

His job was simple: pretend to be a Jackie Robinson statue. His second grade class was part of a Black history museum exhibit where students could tap each others’ hand to “power on” the statue. Each kid had a small speech prepared, telling the story of who their historical figure was.

Sweat dripped down Niseem’s temples as he awaited the taps on his hand, his chest tight with anticipation.

With each push, he erupted into a speech.

“Hi! I’m Jackie Robinson. I was born in Cairo, Georgia, in 1919.”

Niseem held himself to a high standard, determined to nail each performance as the hand taps rolled in.

“I’m the type of person where I’m going to push, no matter what it is, to get the performance done,” he said.

Niseem, now Student Government president, is a public-speaking fixture at the University of Miami. From the first day of 2022 orientation, where Niseem rapped a Hamilton verse adapted to UM, to the recent inauguration of SG president, Niseem has electrified his audience.

To the passerby, the performance looks effortless. That’s Niseem’s objective. From the inside, looking out, Niseem remembers his past struggles with public speaking and social interactions.

“I was always a socially awkward kid. I always had to figure my way out. I’m not even naturally a people person,” Niseem said.

Now, Niseem agrees speaking has become near effortless, but it follows years of practicing in the mirror, failures on stage and embarrassment. For each speech, he practices enough times so that he can avoid reading from a paper.

Paul Douillon, one of Niseem’s close friends and a senior studying criminology and sociology, first saw Niseem on stage at a What Matters to U event hosting Josh Peck where Niseem was the interviewer.

“Everybody left that event talking about Josh Peck, but also a lot of people were talking about Niles,” Douillon said. “It was like Josh Peck wasn’t the only star in the show that night.”

Douillon ran into Niseem in the SG suite a few weeks later, kicking off a friendship that would result in a shared ticket for the 2021-2022 SG presidential election.

With Niseem’s previous success in SG, powerful speaking and other talents, pairing up with Douillon seemed certain. Yet, Niseem had a long fight to even meet Douillon, having encountered several obstacles in his entrance to UM.

Back in 2020, Niseem, a high school senior at the time, was waitlisted at UM. An Atlanta native, he was fully prepared to attend Georgia State. He was admitted by surprise, but immediately ran into difficulties with his financial aid package. Upon move-in, his mom became sick with COVID-19, forcing him to stay another few weeks in Atlanta to care for her.

Through the beginning of his UM career, Niseem further overcame health struggles, family deaths and deaths of friends.

“But at the end of the day, we still are going to graduate saying that we’ve reached the top of the mountain,” Niseem said.

He recalls the first day he stepped onto campus with his mom and uncle, the two people who raised him.

They were walking through the Richter Library breezeway when they looked at him and said, “I really think that this campus can be yours and I think you could be president one day.”

Within his first year, Niseem quickly ascended through SG positions, joining the Freshman Leadership Council, then the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council as a student life liaison the following year.

Towards the end of Niseem’s sophomore year, Douillon, Niseem and Tatiana Alvarado, a current senior studying business law and political science, campaigned together on their platform, “A U for U.”

Douillon designed the messaging and Niseem spread it through campus.

“When it was time to execute and talk to students about it, this guy would be the one getting students excited, going to club meetings, getting them on their feet,” Douillon said. “By the time he’s done speaking, they’re all cheering. This guy was crazy on the campaign trail.”

Niseem lost the election by two votes.

“You put in so much work and lose by such a close margin, that hurts,” Douillon said.

Niseem elaborated on the moment, framing it as a blessing in disguise to see Jamie Williams-Smith the current outgoing SG president execute her initiatives and lead the student body.

“The last year’s student government has done a phenomenal job setting us up,” Niseem said. “I can’t even thank Jamie enough”

After the 2021-2022 election, Niseem took a step back from SG to learn more about the university, student body and himself.

Niseem won in the 2022-2023 election, but under unusual circumstances after a run-off for the presidency put him in office, but without his running mates. Niseem will now serve alongside Angela Ansah, his vice president, and Paige-Tatum Hawt, his treasurer, both from the opposing party’s ticket, “All About U.”

“We’re on the same page. If anyone has any edits that they want to contribute, there’s an open space to discuss that and debate that,” Ansah said. “Our ideas were very similar.”

Ansah sees this partially as an opportunity to capitalize off of each other in developing their platform.

“In general, goals for next year: just making sure that a lot of students know the resources that they have access to and feel inspired to make their mark on campus,” Ansah said.

Niseem echoed her student-based focus.

“I want them to see that the University has a blank canvas that they have four years to scratch, draw, sculpt, erase anything they want to in order to create their final masterpiece during graduation,” Niseem said.

“Here’s your canvas. Here’s the tools. Here’s the resources. Now go be great.”