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Passing on the Torch

Imagine spending four years at the University clawing and scratching your way to the top rung of an organization's leadership. Imagine working countless hours, spending late nights in the office, meeting with faculty members and administrators, filling your wardrobe with bow ties and pastel button-down shirts and abandoning schoolwork in an attempt to carry out your duties to the best of your ability.

Then, suddenly, your days are numbered, your successor has been chosen, and it's time to move out of the office.

Suddenly, you have time on your hands that before becoming a politico top dog, you never knew existed.

Welcome to the world of has-been politicos.

Separation anxiety

Up in the Student Council offices, not much has changed since the beginning of the year, despite the election of new officers.

Matt Madden stands in the office he shares with Abby Fifer on the third floor of Newcomb Hall, glaring at his computer screen and scowling. It's only an hour before the week's Council meeting, and he still has to get ready. There are agendas to copy and resolutions to prepare before the representatives congregate in the South Meeting Room.

Madden, now Council's executive vice president, will remain in office until the organization's last meeting of the year on April 24, even though students elected his successor, second-year College student Adam Swann, on March 1.

Madden said he will be ready for the change and welcome his freedom, even if it is only for the final weeks of his fourth year.

"I'm happy to pass on the responsibilities to capable successors," he said.

But Council President Joe Bilby admitted that there may be "a bit of a letdown" when it's time for him to clean out his office and hand over Council leadership to Fifer, a third-year College student and current Council chief of staff.

"It's been a great experience, but it's just for a year," Bilby said.

Bilby and Madden both said Council's long transition period - almost two months - is not particularly awkward.

It allows the successors to obtain a full grasp of relevant issues before taking office, but does not leave the former office holders feeling like lame ducks attempting to exert power in their final days of office.

"I couldn't be happier with next year's executive officers, so there are no worries about the organization," Bilby said.

Released from captivity

As University Judiciary Committee chairwoman, Lissa Percopo spent a lot of time on the fourth floor of Newcomb Hall - so much that she felt guilty if a day went by and she did not visit her office.

But since her term ended April 1, she has been relieved of nearly all her UJC duties and now has time for activities that do not center on the Standards of Conduct.

Still, Percopo said her UJC responsibilities did not end entirely when her term was over.

"Transition doesn't really end when you say it does," she said, adding that the new committee has asked her to take care of a few tasks and return to her original role as an educator for a small number of cases.

With these dramatically reduced responsibilities, Percopo has seen several major changes in her lifestyle.

"If I were not to get out of bed for an entire day, no one would be affected but me," she said, pointing out that her largest organizational responsibility now is planning her Beach Week trip, rather than overseeing the University's student judicial process.

Former Inter-Fraternity Council President Justin Saunders agreed that his newfound freedom has been liberating in many ways.

Saunders said it feels great to be relieved of the responsibility of coordinating and leading the University's 32 fraternities because there is "not as much stress" now that his term is over.

But he admitted there still was a bit of a sense of loss when the time came to hand the IFC over to current President Josh Johnson.

"You don't know if the things you did will take hold," Saunders said.

Both Percopo and Saunders agreed that they have had little trouble finding ways to fill up their hours now that they do not spend so many of them working in Newcomb Hall.

"I rest a lot and play golf," Saunders said, and Percopo stressed that she is attempting to spend as much time with her friends as possible before graduation.

In addition, she also is "going to the gym and doing my homework."

While Bilby does not yet have an ample amount of free time, he said he is looking forward to it after spending the last year working 40 hours a week for Council.

"I want to spend more time outdoors and in bars," he said.

One thing that has changed a great deal for Saunders is his wardrobe, as he has been able to abandon the formal clothes he often needed for meetings and other events.

Along with his new uniform of shorts and flip-flops, "sometimes you'll even see me in a hat," he said.

A historical perspective

Current University political guru Larry J. Sabato knows first-hand about the practices of student leaders. He served as Student Council president in the mid-1970s.

But back in his day, he said, things were a little different, and he did not receive any time off between completing his term in office and taking his degree.

"At that time, you actually finished with graduation," Sabato said. "The next person took over in the summer."

This hectic schedule led to a fourth year that was not as relaxing as some students would hope for, he said.

"I never did have a chance to rock on the Lawn," the former 16 East Lawn resident said. "I don't think the Lawn room should be used for retirement."

And although students may fall under the same "has been" category as real life politicians who have finished their terms in office, several differences still remain.

For real-life lame ducks, the priority is to "spend every penny in the office account," Sabato said.

But he added that for better or worse, University regulations bar Bilby, Madden, Percopo or Saunders from such activities.


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