Photo: Daniel Shirey University of Georgia Student Government President Mallory Davis meets with Rodney Bennett, University Vice President of Student Affairs, at the University of Georgia in Athens earlier this month.
ATHENS -- Panic didn't strike until the lights went out.
Countless fundraisers. Hours on the phone haggling with student services and the athletics department. More than 40 public speaking sessions. And an enormous feast for 3,000 young people already on its way to Sanford Stadium.
Plans for the freshman welcome event were studied, prepared, picked apart and executed by 21-year-old Mallory Davis, a Grayson High School graduate.
As Davis lay awake in bed, a mental checklist running through her head only hours before the gathering, a thought stopped her dead in her tracks.
'What if nobody shows up?'
As Student Government Association president at the University of Georgia, Davis wanted the freshmen's 2011 welcome "to really mean something, to be a special moment they would never forget."
Since being sworn in last April, Davis has worked to promote projects that supported her vision for the 227-year-old school.
In her leadership role at the university, few things have been more important for her than building traditions for more than 30,000 students and fostering relationships with a workforce of thousands.
"There seemed to have always been this strain between administration and the student government association, and strains between (college newspaper) the Red and Black and the student government association," Davis said.
"We were thinking, 'why is that so?' It didn't make sense to us."
Davis said she and peers with the association "decided that these tensions needed to be eased, and these relationships needed to be formed and nurtured. So we started meeting with administrators, and we sat down with the Red and Black."
Since the meetings, Davis said it's been a "constant effort at transparency, and we've had a lot of victories."
The 'we' she refers to are peers and acquaintances in the student government association. Among them is a friend with roots in Davis' childhood and Gwinnett County.
Jaime Conner, 21, graduated from Grayson High School with Davis in 2009.
Back in high school, Conner was the senior class president and Davis was vice president.
Conner said what sets Davis apart is "her vision."
"It's really rare to find someone who really has a vision and can actually implement that. Many people have the push, but they can't see a plan through to the end," Conner said. "Mallory just pushes and pushes. She's got initiative."
Conner and Davis have been friends since eighth grade when Davis transferred to the area from Lawrenceville.
Her Lawrenceville roots run deep.
Her parents, Susan and Greg Sikes, own Sikes & Davis Interiors & Fine Furniture downtown.
Her grandfather, Bobby Sikes, served on the local city council for more than a decade and was Lawrenceville's mayor from 2004-2006.
Davis said she may have learned a thing or two watching her grandfather.
"A lot of it was just from observing," Davis said. "Our family was a big part of his campaign process, and I used to go and watch him at city council meetings as a kid."
Davis couldn't say whether her political ambitions were spurred by genetics.
"I just feel like if I see there's a need in my community, or if there's a change I want to see made, I want to try and do my best to make it happen," she said. "But I don't have any outright desire to be a politician."
Davis hopes to attend law school after she gets her English and communications studies bachelor's degree in May 2013. In the meantime, she wants to stay involved with student government but on a less visible level.
Davis has chosen not to seek re-election when her term expires in April 2012.
"It was a hard decision, but I knew it was time to step aside and let someone with fresh legs, so to speak, come in and take over," she said.
College administrators at Georgia feel that Davis has done a fine job as student government president.
"She does it very, very well," said Matt Winston, assistant to University President Michael Adams.
Among other duties, Winston is the liaison between student leaders and the president's office."She knows how to pick her battles, and that's a very important key to being a good leader," Winston said.
Leadership is an ingrained trait for Davis, according to her advisor.
"It goes beyond a good work ethic," said Ed Mirecki, student activities adviser at UGA. "She's driven. She's invested in what she's doing, and she works harder than anyone I've ever seen."
Other leadership qualities Davis has: "she's down to earth, and she's very approachable. She's a genuine person, and that's an often-overlooked quality that many good leaders have ... the ability to connect with a person on an individual level."
Perhaps it was one of those very traits that helped her as she "fought tooth and nail" to navigate the red tape, clearing the way for 2011's entire freshman class to share an experience together.
As Davis paced the grounds inside Sanford Stadium minutes before fall semester's freshman welcome, the doubts surfaced again.
'What if nobody shows up?'
She walked toward the stadium gates, her mind reeling with the facts and figures of the project. As she peered out, a wave of shock hit her.
Students were lined up all the way into the streets, more than 3,000 of them. Davis gave her peers orders, and the students began their march into the stadium. They talked. They joked. They ate good food.
And Davis watched, nearly tearful, as they spread out across Sanford Stadium, taking their places.
Davis climbed the football stands as fast as she could. Turning around, she witnessed what she refers to as her "shining moment in time."
More than 3,000 new university students stood together as one in the formation of a "G"
"That day was their first impression of UGA," Davis reflected. "We're building traditions and relationships here on campus."
Despite some self doubt, the plan was executed perfectly.
Her counselor never doubted Davis for a second.
"She has been successful in what she's done here at UGA," Mirecki said. "I have no doubt that Mallory is going to be successful in whatever she chooses to do in life."