Staying close and moving forward

Cold Stream Pond in Lincoln, Maine
In the photo, from left to right, front row: Amy Dumont ’09, senior account executive, Pearson; Emily Firment ’11, current Wheaton SGA president; Aarika DuPlissie ’09, administrative coordinator, Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine; Leo Gayne, deputy director of public engagement, Office of the Mayor of Cambridge, Mass. Back row: Jonathan Wolinsky ’10, assistant director of admission, Wheaton; Arian Gower ’09, graduate student, Rosalind Franklin University; Persephone Tan ’09, staffer for New York City council member; Austin Simko ’09; and Zachary Ginsburg ’10, graduate student, King’s College.

A caravan of dust-covered cars barreled down a dirt road. After four miles of bumpy and curving driving, our group arrived at its destination after six and a half hours of traveling from Boston. Here we were, nine Wheaton students and alums soaking up the summer of 2010, alongside Cold Stream Pond in Lincoln, Maine.

We converged on this location—338 miles from Norton and one moose trek from the Canadian border—for a reunion of our Student Government Association Executive Board.

It had been 15 months since we last did business as the governing board of SGA, 115 weeks since taking office, and 840 days since being elected to our nine offices in the spring of 2008. We had come from New York, Virginia, Maine, California and Massachusetts.

But what made this gathering special was not the time that had elapsed since Commencement scattered our paths, or even the geographical space that physically separated us. What made this reunion poignant was that our friendships had passed a test—our connection had proven real.

Two years earlier, we had each won our respective races for campus-wide office and became a board overnight. With several of us abroad that spring and all of us consumed by friends, fun and the future, our thoughts were far from the team of nine that the student body had assembled. Indeed, in those first months of leadership, we were more a potpourri than a unit. The nine of us hailed from around the country. We represented three separate graduating classes and six majors of study. Aside from Wheaton and a decision to place our names on the ballot, we had little in common.

But as we settled into our offices that summer and fall, the differences that had defined our separateness began to feed our success. Along with nearly 100 projects, we created an annual winter musical, an energy-saving competition among the dorms, a summer stipend program for internships, and a more equitable sanctioning policy. We forged a team that, far from smoothing over our differences, thrived on them.

While some among us valued efficiency and productivity, others offered a focus on inclusion and deliberateness. While some sought concrete, programmatic change, others pursued constructing a new campus culture. Our team was a blend of seriousness and humor, realism and idealism.

But as our terms drew to a close in spring 2009, our biggest challenge was yet to come: staying close as we moved forward.

In the short time since that Commencement, we have charged forward in varied directions. Within our ranks is an incipient doctor, a senior counselor to the mayor of Cambridge, Mass., an account executive, a staffer for a New York City council member, and a student of war studies at Oxford, to name a few paths.

It would have been easy to treat our team as a positive but fading memory. But we chose to view it as a present and active reality. We chose to celebrate holidays, share successes, voice concerns and extend unconditional support.

All of this we did virtually, replacing conversations on the Dimple with chats on g-mail. So as the one-year anniversary of our leaving office approached and passed, we decided to have a reunion where we could come together in person.

Getting nine people to Cold Stream Pond was no easy task. Altogether, we traveled a total of 6,160 miles. The planning had been tiring and the trip long, but when we arrived in the Maine woods, we each knew it had all been worth it.

For the next five days we swam, kayaked, Jet-Skied, talked, teased, ate and laughed. We felt the warmth of lasting friendship and the pride in forging a community out of a collection. This community shared an affinity to a college, a commitment to service, and the capacity for adaptation. And though we were hundreds of miles from Wheaton, the source of our wellspring felt near.

Now, nearly two years since leaving our posts, though we hold no titles, we are more of a board than we have ever been. As the years pass, careers take off and families spring up, we will continue to grow closer.

None of us can say what the future holds for us as individuals or as a group. But one path is certain: We will again find ourselves on a bumpy, curving dirt road in August of 2011.