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Election victory indicates mandate for Shappell, insight of Notre Dame student body

Amanda Michaels | Tuesday, February 14, 2006

I didn’t think it would actually happen.

I’d joked for days about how great it would be for the election to be decided without a run-off, but with two strong tickets leading the charge, I knew that was just the pipe dream of a reporter who had slogged through the three-round slugfest that was the 2004 Charlie Ebersol and Adam Istvan race.

So when the call came last night that Lizzi Shappell had secured a majority the first time around, I literally stared at the receiver in shock.

Add another item to the list of landmark events this semester.

Not only was Shappell given a powerful student mandate – one withheld since the 1999 election – but she also will stand as just the third female student body president in Notre Dame history.

It is a testament to the respect garnered by Dave Baron and Shappell over the course of this term that on a campus criticized for strained gender relations, a woman was elected to lead without hesitation.

Notre Dame students also stepped up, shaking off their oft-bemoaned cloaks of apathy and turning in a performance as impressive as that of Shappell. Elections are always a complex mish-mash of mixed messages and torn loyalties, even more so on a college campus. One candidate seduces with attractive – and usually impossible – promises, while another oozes enough charisma to trap potential voters like flies. Merely living in the wrong dorm or owning the wrong type of car can spell doom for a ticket. Competency and realistic ideals are overlooked in favor of glad-handing and sheer volume.

But this time around, the student body seemed to experience a moment of clarity while standing in the midst of polarizing debates on academic freedom and heated encounters with South Bend residents, and it picked the candidate most qualified to deal with the big issues. The students chose the ticket most familiar with the ongoing problems they face at this University and with the most credible approach to finding some solutions.

Perhaps I’m giving campus voters too much credit. Perhaps they just picked a candidate based on whom the media endorsed or who stuffed the most flyers in their mailbox or who looked the best in a skirt. But hopefully not. I’d like to think students benefiting from a $40,000 a year education are a little wiser, a little more informed than that.

And if you know any different, please keep it to yourself.

So, what’s next? As Baron bows out, Shappell will have to juggle picking up where his successful term leaves off while forging her own policy path. She’ll inevitably face diplomatic struggles with the University administration and the citizens of South Bend. And judging by the way this semester is going, I wouldn’t be surprised if another obstacle were looming on the horizon.

But the one thing Shappell won’t have to worry about is whether she has the student body behind her, and after last night’s voting, she can confidently stick it to whatever or whomever stands in the way.