Congratulations to all of the new members of student government here at Wheaton. I think your jobs are extremely important to the success of our college. One of the major reasons I chose Wheaton, in fact, is because its student government convinced me to.
When I was applying to colleges, I took an absurd amount of tours and attended a large number of accepted student days. And during those visits, I talked to a lot of people, many of whom represented their colleges via student government. Some of those talks went well, some of them did not. None of them blew me away like the interaction I had at Wheaton. It happened nearly four years ago, and I still remember it vividly.
It was a cold, rainy morning when I pulled into the parking lot across from Wheaton for Accepted Students’ Day, hardly suitable for a fun tour. I didn’t know what to expect—Wheaton was not one of my top choices, and I didn’t really know that much about the college. I figured I’d hear the same platitudinal nothings I heard at the three schools I’d just visited over the past week, that I’d eat some free food and glean almost no real insight into the inner workings of the school. That is, after all, the college way—post-secondary education is incredibly expensive even after financial aid awards. I was a pretty ignorant kid, but certainly aware enough to remember this as I listened to each “Look how amazing we are!” speech. It’s a sales pitch, I thought each time. So sell me.
Turns out, Wheaton’s pitch was effective not so much because of what was said, but because of who said it. Yeah, we heard from the Provost and a few department chairs. Those speeches were probably necessary based on college tradition, and they were innocuous enough. The best speech of the morning, though, came from Gabe Amo, the President of SGA that year. His speech lingered in my head as I drove home later that evening; it lingered in my head as I sent my letter of acceptance back to Wheaton, and it sticks with me to this day.
Gabe approached the bench to speak in a quiet-but-calculated manner. He spoke about specific people he’d met on each level at the college, mentioning that one of his advisors chided him for his passable-but-uninspired work ethic as a student. He talked about how that moment changed his life—a real Wheaton story that I’ve heard myriad times at this school since from friends. He detailed the various things to do at Wheaton, but did so with grace and through careful explanation. Gabe emphasized that Wheaton is a community of amazing individuals before stressing the importance and power of community, which is obviously very important to a skeptic like me. He painted a picture of the campus through his own experiences and through specific portraits of the people who helped make those experiences so important.
Needless to say, the speech felt genuine. It felt real, it felt insightful, and it felt professional. Gabe took his job very seriously, and it showed. I was so impressed that I knew I had to seek him out after his speech was over, just to pick his brain a bit.
Now, Gabe is hardly an ordinary student—he won a Marshall and a Truman later that year and left for Oxford after Wheaton. But he was such a heady, humble person face-to-face, and he knew so much about Wheaton that each and every one of my questions was answered in a thoughtful and satisfying way. I also met Riley Waggaman, who was Vice President of SGA that year; he, too, was an extremely intelligent person full of character, something I really found out when I arrived at Wheaton as a freshman with anti-Wheaton Wire sentiments and the desire to write funny. But that’s a story for another time.
Anyway, Gabe planted an idea in my head that no other student government official at any other school was able to—that anyone at Wheaton could be like him. No, not everyone in student government has the power or the stage to reach students like the President of SGA, a position my good friend and colleague Joseph Campbell will surely excel at throughout this year. After Gabe’s speech I felt like anyone at Wheaton, student government member or not, could blossom at this college and become a difference-maker. That’s why I’m here. Gabe Amo, like Joey Campbell and most of the SGA Presidents that came before him, spent many hours at Wheaton working to make student government as effective as possible. I know that the newest members of our student government will continue to do so. And I know that when the time comes, they will be able to step up and show prospective students that Wheaton is a very special place.