Presidential: a retrospective of the last ten years of Students’ Union presidents

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2008 – 2009 Colin Le Fevre

Following a messy voting period — one of the presidential candidates was disqualified from the race on the day of the election — Le Fevre ultimately won a vote that only 11.01 per cent of the student body participated in.

His term was marked by several features, including the need to deal with a significant influx to the student population. He also became involved in a plan, hatched with the President of WLUSP, to transfer Radio Laurier over from the Students’ Union to Student Publications. This enormous organizational change was met with protest, which Le Fevre sees retrospectively as an important learning experience; he believes that there is a great need to discuss changes with all of the forces associated with them, because those are the people who care the most about them.

“No matter how great an idea you think you have,” he said, “and no matter how well it’s going to work out in the end, you have to make sure the right people have bought in, have been sold on the concept.”

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2009 – 2010 Laura Sheridan

A former acting VP of Student Activities, Sheridan came to the role with a platform that promised responsible growth for future sustainability. She won the election with nearly 50 per cent of the votes placed, although the results were postponed after a ballot counting error caused a significant, tense delay until the following morning.

Promising to break down walls and better connect with services across campus, especially with LSPIRG and the Diversity office, Sheridan’s time as president was marked by continuing growth within the Laurier community. Her term was founded on the necessity of listening to students — especially in recognizing what was most desired by the student body — and utilizing her power to ensure their needs and desires were met to the best of her ability.

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2010 – 2011 Kyle Walker

In what would wind up being the final Students’ Union election to be submitted only on paper, only 14 per cent of the student body turned out to vote in the 2010-2011 election and elevate Walker to Students’ Union President.

Without Students’ Union experience, Walker — a geography major — relied on unique personal skills to define his success within the role by building positive relationships within the community. A Milton native, Walker became involved in the discussion to open a Laurier campus in Milton — a plan that, to date, has not yet fully come to fruition.

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2011 – 2012 Nick Gibson

With a voter turnout that was much, much bigger than the previous year — marked by a transition to online voting and a first-past-the-post rather than ranked ballot system — Nick Gibson won the role with 41.5 per cent of the vote.

His term was enormously important for stressing the satellite nature and addressing the evolutions of the school, especially with the Brantford campus. During Gibson’s term he facilitated the passing of new rules and bylaws, including the rule that two directors on the board had to come from each campus.

Gibson offered a few words of advice for the next student to take on the role, especially noting the difficulties inherent to the position and reflecting on how much of the role precedes you.

“Be prepared to realize that a platform is not going to be all that you’re doing,” he said. “In fact, it’s probably going to be 25 per cent or less.”

He also commented on the nature of the position:

“It can get lonely at the top especially when you’re in a controversial situation and you feel very isolated sometimes so it’s good to be able to sit and chat with somebody who knows the situation,” said Gibson. “lean on your predecessors no matter how far back they go.”

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2012 – 2013 Michael Onabolu

Winning the election with, at the time, the most votes ever placed seemed an auspicious start for Onabolu, coming into the role of Students’ Union President.

But his term began with problems — a massive debt being one of them, according to his final review. Fortunately, following a slow start, Onabolu smoothly applied himself to the role enough to turn things around.  He worked at repairing the Students’ Union’s financial situation and, as was part of his platform, dedicated a great deal of his time and efforts to mental health efforts and awareness.

“We were trying to inspire people to speak out … on things that aren’t necessarily the easiest things to talk about,” Onabolu said, reflecting on his legacy. “We’re not just trying to be student leaders and holed up in our offices, we’re trying to show students that we’re there and we care.”

For the next person to take on this role, Onabolu has a few short words of advice:

“The students elected you for a reason,” he said. “Don’t ever doubt that. There will be times that you doubt that, just remember that you are there because we believe in you.”

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2013 – 2014 Annie Constantinescu

Citing having a strong, committed team behind her as a source of success within the role, Constantinescu’s term was committed to a focus on mental health and student wellness, especially by opening the current iteration of the Wellness Centre.

“It focused on bringing together mental and physical wellness and putting it under one umbrella,” she said. “So that students wouldn’t have to feel this pressure that they have to be one or the other.” She referred to it as “one set of campus resources.”

She reflected on the importance and the value of the role, much of which was based on “having this lens into what different students’ lives on campus were and being able to take that information and really be an advocate for them to members of the university who really don’t understand it.”

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2014-2015 Sam Lambert

Winning 51.8 per cent of the vote in a three-way race, Lambert’s win was a clear majority.

But it’s worth noting that criticism for Lambert in his final report at The Cord was more biting than for most other candidates in recent years, mostly due to a much lower level of accessibility and visibility than the student body had grown used to. It’s worth noting that this lack of transparency has made it difficult to adequately assess his performance, but what’s most notable here is where he flourished: lacking Students’ Union experience, Lambert ran the Union like a business, where policies and reports were balanced to operate the Union like a well-oiled machine.

Lambert is remembered for his functionality and the excellent cooperation he had with his team, rather than for his criticized student-body relations.

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2015-2016 Olivia Matthews

With a platform that promised an interconnectedness between university departments and a connection between herself and students, Olivia Matthews’s relationship-centric term began with a new record number.

Working with students and advocates, Matthews sees her biggest impact — at the university and even at the provincial level — in the work she did on sexual violence advocacy, specifically with policies and prevention. She reflected on its impact on her, how hearing from advocates and addressing their very real concerns has changed her life and career pursuits.

Matthews detailed the shift required once elected into the role and how it should be approached as a radical departure from one’s approach to the election, where they are attempting to convince the student body that they are the ideal candidate for the role.

“As soon as you become President-elect,” she said in a written statement, “you should change your mindset completely and pretend you were hired as the worst candidate for a very challenging role. Learn from everyone around you and respect them for the knowledge they hold, including the full-time continuing staff, the current executive team and the leadership of other partnering organizations.”

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2016-2017 Tyler Van Herzele

Van Herzele was an exceptional figure within the role of Students’ Union president, because he was the first ever Brantford campus student to be elected into the role. That reality governed at least part of his mandate of multi-campus interconnectivity. This created a unique situation, as the role has not traditionally been as seamless, primarily operating out of the Waterloo campus.

Van Herzele was described as likeable and approachable, and was applauded for his abilities in communicating. Overseeing Turret renovations and opening the President’s Council to create more dialogue between presidents from different departments, Van Herzele’s tenure in the role is best defined as communicative, transparent and engaged.

In a written statement, Van Herzele commented on the importance of relying on staff and realizing that the role, while authoritative, is also one of learning. His advice for the next president is to “ensure you always keep the betterment of students at the forefront of conversations.”

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2017-2018 Kanwar Brar

Our current president is hard to measure out objectively and concretely, considering that he is still performing the role. After running unopposed, voting numbers weren’t incredibly high: only 22 per cent of the student body voted, 94.04 per cent of which supported Brar for the role.

Open and organized, Brar’s impact on campus has been mostly positive. With a platform that proposed multi-campus outlook and a focus on student wellness as well as student awareness — especially in understanding where ancillary student fees have gone to — seeing how Brar’s legacy within the role remains after his departure will more accurately measure his success within the union.

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