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Humanity or hummus? Priorities of student government

The Observer Editorial Board | Friday, April 1, 2011

The student government office on the second floor of LaFortune is not quite the Oval Office, but April 1 marks a presidential change nonetheless.

Today Pat McCormick and Brett Rocheleau assume their respective positions of student body president and vice president, while Catherine Soler and Andrew Bell will step down after their year in office.

Soler and Bell can be proud of what they accomplished. They represented the student body with poise despite a slew of arrests in the fall, heat from the local community and the general red tape that too often paralyzes student government. They encouraged the use of Transpo and improved communication between student government and the student body. They were good at their job — and that is key.

Enter McCormick and Rocheleau. The team’s campaign succeeded on the strength of McCormick’s public speaking, his polished campaign and his promises for a student government that is bigger and brighter. The incoming administration’s plan — rewrite the presidential job description. McCormick promised a student government with no limits, a student government that is visible, a student government that makes students care about something more.

He wants to improve sustainability, reach out to the local community and hold a large-scale concert in the spring centered on the concept of social concern. The day-to-day tasks, the minute details that were the trials and the triumphs of the Soler-Bell administration, will be delegated to a “director of constituent services” while the president focuses on the world.

Today is McCormick’s first day. Today he will begin to answer the question that remains — can he do it? Can he successfully change student government into a larger voice? Or will he find himself paralyzed in a slew of red tape and failed ambitions?

McCormick has promise.

He speaks with clarity and conviction, and underneath the towering imagery of lighthouses and crossroads and world peace, he has an impressive track record. McCormick served as social concerns chair for student government with unbridled passion. He executed a successful campaign for awareness about the political crisis in Sudan this winter that culminated in the Playing for Peace rally and basketball tournament. He led the Social Concerns Committee through projects like eND Hunger, and he connected himself with people who can help him in the future. (He also resurrected quarter dogs from their 33-cent grave.)

Yet his experience remained inside the structure of the current student government. McCormick’s largest challenge will be revamping this structure toward his ideal. Students will still turn to student government when wanting a better textbook rental system, lights on McGlinn Field and a change in the drinking games policy. Today McCormick must begin on the reality of his promises. He must decide if he can manage his large projects in tandem with the needs, sometimes trivial but always pressing, of the student body. He must decide if working on world issues can happen simultaneously with saving hummus in the dining hall.

Notre Dame is full of students who care about something more. We are addicted to the Center for Social Concerns, and we reach for the world’s problems with our idealism and our talent.

Perhaps, just perhaps, this hunger for something more can be combined with McCormick’s ideas to create something new.