On Wednesday, April 13, the ASU Alumni Association honored 160 current and former student government leaders at its annual Affinity Reunion. For the first time since 2020, Arizona State University alumni reconnected with past friends and colleagues from their time in student government, and new generations of Sun Devils met and networked with their predecessors.
Each year, the ASU Alumni Association hosts a reunion for a different school, organization, club or academic affiliation. This year’s event brought together an impressive array of student government leaders who continued to be innovators and changemakers after graduation.
As alumni, faculty and student leaders arrived at the Student Pavillion building on the Tempe campus, there was a sense of excitement to finally be back together again. It was the first chance that many student government leaders had to gather in-person since the pandemic shifted most meetings and events to virtual platforms.
Attendees posed for photos with Sparky, enjoyed refreshments, exchanged business cards and voted in a special election that asked ASU-related questions, like, "Do you prefer the pitchfork or Sparky?" and "Maroon or gold?"
One of the guests in attendance was Jerry Harris, who served as the Associated Men’s student treasurer in 1957.
The 83-year-old said, “Coming out here makes me feel young.”
ASU President Michael Crow, who served as a student senator during his college years, kicked off the event with a speech that highlighted ASU’s history, its evolution into the “New American University” and the many ways the university plans to continue to grow.
“I have been involved in looking at universities and colleges all around the world, and I will guarantee you that this is one of the greatest universities that human beings have ever constructed,” Crow said.
In his speech, Crow boasted about the ASU faculty’s dedication to student success, the institution's impact on Arizona, increased graduation rates and diversity within the student population, and the groundbreaking research that puts ASU on the cusp of overtaking MIT as a research university.
He emphasized the importance of “the underlying culture of openness in the student body” that makes it possible to solve almost any problem.
Next, Christine Wilkinson, the ASU Alumni Association president and CEO, took a moment to recognize some of the guests in attendance, including former mayors Neil Giuliano and Boyd Dunn, former student regents and administrators, the deans of students of all four ASU campuses, and the 15 committee members who assisted in the planning of the event.
Former Tempe Mayor Giuliano moderated the Associated Students of ASU (ASASU) legacy panel, a discussion with three former Undergraduate Student Government (USG) leaders. Mark Naufelm, Sophie O’Keefe Zelman and Mikey Rodriguez, and the current USG West campus president, Elizabeth Chilton.
In an interview before the event, Guiliano said his experience as the 1982 USG president prepared him for his role as Tempe mayor.
“It totally prepared me for dealing with a wide range of people, and talking ideas and policy and things you want to get accomplished with other people, because you don't do anything by yourself,” he said.
After his time as mayor, Giuliano served as the CEO of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), a non-government media organization that advocates for LGBT acceptance, and fights against defamation in the media.
“When you're involved in something like student government, you learn how to articulate your views,” Giuliano said. “You learn how to communicate with a wide variety of people. And a national advocacy organization does the same thing every day. For me, it was LGBT issues, but it's the same for any issue.”
As for the future of ASU, Giuliano hopes to see “more excellence,” which he said means earning a degree, being employed in your field of interest, contributing to society and giving back to the university as an alumnus.
At the panel discussion, the panelists provided insight into their motivations for joining student government.
When Sophie O’Keefe Zelman, 2004 USG Tempe president, was asked why she wanted to lead student government, she said, “I saw USG and ASASU as a great place where all of the diverse constituencies of students could come together, and you could listen, and you could bring everyone together to create space for everyone's unique needs. I thought it would be a good opportunity where I could give a voice to all the different diverse places and organizations on campus.”
Rodriguez said the most memorable part of his time in student government was “having amazing leaders that I got to partner with who were my peers.”
Chilton explained that the Council of Presidents (COP) consists of all four USG presidents from each campus as well as the Graduate and Professional Student Association (GPSA) president.
“The Council of Presidents is a unique place for us to share the problems, the stories, of our constituency and we can work towards collective goals for the university,” Chilton said.
Chilton said COP creates a list of priorities during the summer session, and works together throughout the year to accomplish their goals.
“I’ll be darned if the list is not exquisitely considerable, unbelievably forward-thinking, and in almost every case, something that we need to do,” Crow said about the council's priorities during his speech.
Current GPSA President Nicole K. Mayberry outlined the council's five priorities for the 2021–2022 academic year: transparency; basic needs investment and education; diversity, equity and inclusion; student health and wellness; and spirit, pride and tradition.
John Hopkins, USG Tempe president and student trustee, concluded the evening with a final speech that ended with a “Go Devils!” cheer accompanied by confetti cannons.
“We all made an oath,” Hopkins said. “We made a commitment to go forth, conducting ourselves with ethical and honorable practices, maintaining integrity along the way and staying involved with civic engagement."
Hopkins plans to continue his education through a master's program at the Thunderbird School of Global Management, which just opened its new headquarters on the Downtown Phoenix campus.
In an interview ahead of the reunion event, Hopkins said, "I think it's an incredible opportunity today to connect with past student leaders and hear about what they did on campus, and potentially rekindle some of the things that they did in their day for the student body currently."
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