USG’s new president juggles helping and healing

Tommy Watral poses outside Henderson Hall on April 11, 2018

Addie Gall

Thomas Watral, or “Tommy,” as he’s better known by his friends, has always had a passion for helping people.

Watral, now the president of Undergraduate Student Government (USG), a senior nursing major and Sigma coordinator of Sigma Phi Epsilon, started his career plan on a different path.

In his junior year of high school in Mentor, Ohio, Watral enrolled in a two-year engineering program. After just one year of it, he decided it wasn’t for him.

“I learned I hated engineering,” Watral said.

He began his search for where he wanted to attend college, but Kent State was never a first choice for him. He was more interested in Case Western Reserve University and Ursuline College.

Ultimately, it came down to which school would give him more money. So he picked the school whose campus he had loved the most — Kent State.  

“Kent wasn’t really my first choice, but looking back, it should have been from the start,” Watral said.

Watral got involved on campus at the start of his freshman year when he joined the fraternity Sigma Phi Epsilon.

It was not until the end of his freshman year that Watral had even heard of USG when his fraternity brothers had told him he should vote for the candidates.

Fast forward to the end of Watral’s sophomore fall semester, and he considered running for the senator of the College of Nursing.

Olivia Mullen, the current chief of staff of USG and a senior biology major, pushed him to take a chance and run for director of governmental affairs instead.

“He told me about his interest in USG and how passionate he was about nursing law and nursing legislation,” Mullen said. “I sat him down and basically said, ‘You have too much potential to do great things, and you have such a great leadership drive and abilit. You’d be wasting it on this position that would only serve one portion of students when you could be director of governmental affairs and serve the whole student body and really make a difference to your peers.’”

Watral took this advice and was elected director of governmental affairs his sophomore year.

Looking back, though, he still wishes he could change it.

“My biggest regret would be not running for College of Nursing senator coming out of my freshman year,” Watral said.

Balancing his responsibilities with his fraternity, USG and nursing school was something he struggled with in the beginning. Watral said he doesn’t see himself as someone with good time management skills, and he had to learn how to change that.

The Fall 2017 semester was his most difficult semester in the nursing program. His clinicals kept him very busy. Every Thursday he would wake up at 5 a.m. to go to the Cleveland Clinic and not get home until 8 p.m.

After looking at his test grades, he decided he needed to do better if he wanted to achieve his dreams.

“I’m trying to get as much as I can out of my college experience,” Watral said.

His time working in hospitals has taught Watral what it’s like to really be a nurse. While his focus is in critical care, he’s worked in a variety of specializations from neonatal intensive care units to cardiac wards.

Watral’s girlfriend, Samantha Byrd, a junior nursing student, said he wants to do things that make health care and nursing better for everyone.

“Tommy’s very big on what’s right for everybody, so it goes a lot deeper for him than just how to be a nurse and what you do to be a nurse and what you have to do for your patients,” Byrd said. “I think, for him, actually getting to communicate with his patients and get to know them on a little bit deeper level than what’s their signs and symptoms is important.”

However, Watral wants to do much more than get his nursing degree.

After he graduates, he wants to attend graduate school and get his master’s of science and nursing and eventually go to law school. His goal is to become a nursing attorney and use his health care knowledge to give nursing a perspective in the courtroom.

“I love nursing because you get to help people at their bedside, one on one,” Watral said, “But I want to help more people through policy, which is more widespread.”

Watral does not want to give up on being a nurse even after he gets his law degree. He hopes to balance working in a hospital and practicing law — something that his many responsibilities are preparing him for now.

But working in hospitals can be hard at times, he said.

“There are days that are very challenging, and you’re questioning why the hell you’re doing it,” Watral said.

Watral said he’ll never forget what his first nurse manager told him on one of these days: “If you want a job that’s rewarding and only rewarding, then go work at a carnival.”

Watral’s passion is making people’s lives better in as many ways as he can, whether that’s just physical health or implementing policy changes to benefit patients.

His time working in hospitals has taught him a lot, but Watral said if there’s one thing to take away, it’s this:

“When people’s lives are at the worst in the hospital, you get to make their lives better, and I saw that just caring for patients on my floor. There is so much gratitude in little actions. Like, getting a glass of water only takes 30 seconds of my time.”

Addie Gall is the student politics reporter. Contact her at [email protected].