Redefining Expectations

The e-mail from Hemang Kaul ’13, School President-Elect, arrived on Wednesday, April 25, and was met with immediate criticism. Six candidates had advanced to the final round of voting for Upper Rep and were scheduled to speak to the class of 2014 that Friday at 6:15 p.m. As if the timing wasn’t painful enough, the e-mail reminded the students that the Class of 2014 was required to attend the speeches. Frustrated voices could be heard across campus. “How are we supposed to sit through six people rambling on about stuff they won’t do?” they asked. The nearly universal animosity towards the speeches was resolved with a second e-mail from Kaul. It stated that the meeting was not mandatory after all and that complementary Chipotle burritos would be offered to those who actually showed up. A thinly disguised bribe, but honestly, who cared when good burritos were up for grabs? The next day, a third e-mail was sent out, saying that “Due to a mix-up in the order, the Lower class munch has been changed from burritos to delicious Domino’s pizza.” The final die had been cast. At 6:11 p.m. that same day, I walked up the steps of Cochran Chapel with a friend, peering inside to see whether the pizza was visible from the outside. It was not. However, I could see a handful of students scattered across the front pews, waiting expectantly for the speeches to begin. My friend and I joined them and looked around. Out of a class of roughly 270 people, only about 25 students had actually shown up. The candidates were looking over their shoulders with an air of disappointment, and Kaul stood at the podium, staring down any stragglers coming up the center aisle. It was a far cry from the always boisterous All-School Meeting or even the once-a-term all-class meetings, and everyone knew it. The speakers delayed the inevitable, but eventually they had to concede. The first candidate stepped up to the podium and began to deliver his ideas to a largely empty room. I felt a wave of pity as I listened to every small giggle and whisper that somehow amplified itself in the vast empty space of the Cochran Chapel, overwhelming the voice of the speaker. Perhaps it was the intimacy of the situation, the elimination of our delicious anonymity, that made it so uncomfortable. Still, I had to commend the speakers for carrying on as they did, ignoring the distractions and avoiding the urge to get too personal with the few Lowers who were there. By the time the last speaker on the list delivered his final word, the size of the audience had increased to about 40 people, barely a dent in the carrying capacity of the chapel. Kaul took the podium one last time and wrapped up the event. Forty Lowers sat before him, waiting to hear a single piece of information. “The pizza from Domino’s is waiting outside.” Parked by the curb was a small car with the familiar Domino’s logo on top. As we arrived at the car, a delivery guy lifted out bags laden with boxes full of pizza. A crows of students quickly formed around the vehicle, and every so often a few individuals stepped forward to take a box and disperse from the crowd. What occurred next could only be described as a feeding frenzy, as the slices were ripped apart and washed down with fruit flavored water from a nearby cooler in front of Kemper Autiditorium. Within 15 minutes, it was all over. All that was left behind were greasy pizza boxes piled high in the garbage can, as students vanished into the night in pursuit of whatever their real Friday night plans were. Clearly, something here was not right. When it came time to listen to the people who would one day represent our entire class, only 15 percent of Lowers showed up. Was it because the DramaLabs were scheduled to begin 15 minutes later or because some sports were just finishing and no one wanted to walk all across campus just to hear the candidates? Was it because at the last minute the beloved burritos had been substituted for Domino’s? No. The reason attendance of the speeches was so low was because next to no one really cared about the speeches in the first place. That must have been terribly depressing for the candidates. They were asked to take the time to write out decent speeches and had to settle with delivering it to mostly empty seats. But the absent students cannot take all the blame. After all, what have the reps actually accomplished this year? Their last activity involved a talent show that quickly lost the interest of the crowd, and before that came issues with class apparel being. One could say that these mishaps were a result of poor leadership. I believe otherwise. The candidates always seem to have bright, interesting new ideas at the start of the year that never really pan out later on. To make up for it, they are forced to create less desirable options that can actually be accomplished. But if the reps had more power, perhaps the better ideas could be realized. For example, last year a beach trip was proposed but had to be canceled due to lack of resources. I’ve noticed this issue in higher-up places as well. The Student Council presidential elections may be on a different scale, but they often follow a similar path. In fact, a friend once told me he would base his vote on whoever was the best speaker, because “speeches are all we’ll get out of the winner anyway.” Promises have been made every year that have not been kept, and now the pattern has taken its toll. What students look for in electing their representatives, whether for a class or for the entire student body, has changed from what we might deem more appropriate criteria. For example, the election could be based on commitment but instead leans towards sense of humor. It could be about ideas but instead has become a contest of popularity. Even the nature and expectations of the positions themselves have been warped. Contrary to what some people may believe, the purpose of an organization like Student Council does not have to be just means by which individuals attempt to boost oneself up in an attempt to gain recognition. The ultimate goal of a student council should be to innovate, regulate and ultimately represent the people who have acknowledged its power. Through a deadly spiral of disappointment, the voters have lost their interest, and the candidates have lost their voters. Time will tell how the three new Upper reps will fare in their new positions of power. But with so few people willing to give them that power, what hope do we have for success? Joey Salvo is a two-year Lower from Schenectady, NY.