SFU Student Presidents: Where are they now?

INTRODUCTION

Almost a year after SFU opened its doors on September 9, 1965, student president Tony Buzan penned a letter in the university’s yearbook addressed “To Future Presidents,” in which he implored his successors to continue fighting the good fight.

“Mr. President, do not take time to roam through other hills, or to watch waves make waves of sand,” he wrote. “Spend your time shaping the destiny of this tiny world, this terella, for we shall have succeeded only if you succeed.”

Almost a half-century later, we decided to take a look at how the former presidents of our student society have upheld this mandate. Did they too face “a council born of conflict and dreams?” How did they protect the society against Buzan’s fears that the “educational system may soon be bastardized by the cementing process of time?”

Although we tried to ask these questions of the over 70 presidents in our history, tracking them all down turned out to be an impossible task.

By spending many hours tediously searching names on Google, sending emails, and tweeting at people who often turned out to not be who we thought they were, we found out what some former SFSS presidents accomplished after graduating.

Tony Buzan (‘66)

SFU’s first student council president went on to have a notable career as the self-proclaimed inventor of “mind-mapping.” A grad student from UBC and considered a “ringer” as the first president, Buzan went on to become an author and educational consultant in the UK focusing on ideas surrounding “mental literacy.” According to his website he was “named as one of the world’s top five speakers by Forbes magazine.”

John Mynott (‘66) on…

JohnMynott

Getting into student politics:

“[I started in] high school, just a little bit with the general student council, I think I was a class representative . . .  [When] I got to Simon Fraser, I looked around for something to do, other than going to classes.”

His time as President:

“I found it challenging to keep everybody focused [. . .] and if you look through The Peak archives wayback when, second year, I eventually gave up.”

Life after graduation:

“That’s my big accomplishment, I didn’t graduate. I stayed at Simon Fraser until ’67, went to Expo and fooled around in Montreal, then came back. Sixty-eight I think I went back a little bit, and someone tried to convince me to run for the council again, but I was becoming wise.”

His career:

“I went back to Quebec, I worked in a language school, I built a sailboat, and then that same language school sent me to Ottawa . . . I went gold mining for a summer, and then I said ‘well, I gotta have a little money, I have a young child and a wife.’ So I joined the fire department in Ottawa, just for a couple years to get some money. Twenty-seven years later I retired.”

His peers:

“I don’t even know who came after me, sort of turned off I guess. Or I tuned in. Dropped out. I did drop out.”

Rob Walsh (‘68)

Walsh served as the  House of Commons’ chief legal expert from 1999–2012, where he acted as adviser to MPs, the Speaker and the Board of Internal Economy. Although he had planned to retire to a quiet life of dog-walking and piano-playing, Walsh was dragged back into the political sphere following the Mike Duffy cheque scandal that year. Walsh quickly became the media’s go-to guy for matters concerning the legality of the issues, and has since appeared as a parliamentary expert and panellist on CBC’s The National” and other political programs.

Lena Dominelli (‘68)

The first female president, Dominelli went on to accomplish a great deal in her professional career. She is a professor of Applied Social Sciences and Academician in the Academy of the Learned Societies for Social Sciences at Durham University. According to her staff page on Durham’s website, “her current research interests include: climate change and environmental social work; globalisation; social and community development; social change; women’s well being and welfare; motherhood; fatherhood; child well-being and children’s rights.” She has published a number of papers and books concerning these subjects.

Michael Hoechsmann (‘85) on…

MichaelHoechsmann

Getting into student politics:

“I guess I was a bit of an active student, and some people encouraged me to run for IRO. I didn’t become president through an election process, right? I stepped in when another president had to step aside. [. . .] So I don’t know if I’m a bona fide president. I was president for four months, after 12 months as IRO.”

His time as President:

“We negotiated a union contract the year that I was in the position, negotiated with the different campus constituencies. There’s a pretty good democratic roundtable there that I thought functioned very well, but it involved vigorous debate and argumentation to try to work all those constituencies together.”

Life after graduation:

“The actual experience [of being president] and how that prepared me for other experiences in life was incredible. . . specifically, I was once an executive director of a non-profit organization, [Young People’s Press]. It was a youth advocacy-type organization. Youth advocacy was what being the SFSS President was all about.”

His peers:

“The reporter at The Peak that used to cover us, his name’s Jeff Buttle he works for CBC in Toronto, I see him from time to time.”

Paul Mendes (‘88) on…

PaulMendes

Getting into student politics:

“I might have been on student council in grade eight, but [Langara]’s where I got an interest in it, and when I started at SFU there was quite a bit of apathy. I started in ’86, and I was elected by acclamation to an executive position, and then I think we managed to stir things up, and then there were heavily contested elections after that for a few years.”

His time as President:

“We certainly managed to increase the interest of the student body in student politics. We really held the government’s feet to the fire on a whole bunch of issues, and we did that through organizing a whole bunch of rallies.”

Life after graduation:

“I went to law school at Osgoode Hall, in Toronto, to study abroad, as they say, and then I came back here in ’94 and I’ve been practising law ever since.”

Political aspirations:

“I was interested in politics, but it is cut-throat. . . I mean, Christy Clark was my opponent, and she is a tough customer. . . My recollection of her is exactly the same as how I see her now, she is someone you don’t mess with easily, let’s put it that way. Having experienced that, that gave me a clear message that politics isn’t for me, because it’s too personal, it’s too hard, it takes a lot out of you.”

His peers:

“I really look at myself as being probably among one of the ones that’s accomplished the least out of that group. You had Kevin Falcon, who almost was the premier of BC . . . Ryan Beedie, who donated all of that money to the university for the Beedie school of business. I look at him and I think, holy cow, if I’d known that guy would have that much money I would have been way nicer to him in university.”

Christy Clark (‘89)

Now the Premier of British Columbia, Christy Clark had a brief foray into politics at SFU when she was elected president in 1989. However, she was quickly removed from the position after the electoral commission ruled that she had violated election bylaws by leaving her posters up past the end of campaign period. Clark left SFU without finishing her degree and went on to serve as a Member of the Legislature from 1996 to 2005 and as the Deputy Premier from 2001 to 2005. In 2011, she returned to politics and won the leadership of the British Columbia Liberal Party, taking over from Gordon Campbell as Premier.

Tim Plommer (‘91–‘92) on…

Getting into student politics:

“I was the business student rep on student council from April of ‘90 to April of ‘91. And at the time the student council was controlled by a group called ‘Grassroots’ and I was kind of marginalized on student council, so I formed my own little political party.”

His time as President:

“We were going to build a 3,000 seat domed stadium with a 400 metre running track around it and a soccer field in the center of it. . . All that had to happen was that the Socreds had to win the fall election and they got killed [. . .] It was a term where we just got politically interrupted. But, it was a good time.”

Life after graduation:

“I was going to go into politics [. . . After my graduation however,] it was a very, very bad time to go into politics. So I ended up getting a part-time job working as a trader, trading stocks and bonds. And then I went into full service brokerage business in ‘94 and I’ve been doing it ever since. Now I’m a portfolio manager and fairly successful. ”

His peers:

“I wonder what happened to a guy like Rob Zanatta. . . He’s the reason that I won, because he kind of took me under his wing and taught me how important pub night is for getting elected.”

Dave Crossley (‘99–‘00) on…

DaveCrossley

Getting into student politics:

“Towards the end of my time at SFU, I was encouraged by a friend of mine who was involved in the student society to join one of the committees, and foolishly I volunteered and said yes, and that’s how I got involved.”

His time as President:

“After I served on the committee, I served on . . . I think it was called the finance committee, for about a year. Then I first got elected as treasurer of the student society for one term, and then after serving a year as treasurer I ran for president the winter after that. So that’s sort of the path I took.”

Life after graduation:

“When I left SFU, I worked in the public sector for a very brief time, and then I was hired by the organization I work for now, which is the Planning Institute of BC. Strange as it may sound, the current job I have working with the planning institute was the result of responding to a job ad in the newspaper, which is very old-fashioned nowadays.”

His career:

“I head up a small nonprofit association now, so obviously there’s a lot of similarities there to the student society. So I guess my experience in having a certain amount of management responsibility in a nonprofit organization for a few years when I was involved in the student society definitely helped lead me to where I am today working for the Planning Institute of BC.”

Political aspirations:

“I was fairly involved in municipal politics when I was younger, and certainly enjoyed that. Partly because I had an interest in urban studies and urban planning at the time, so there was sort of a natural fit there between what goes on in municipal politics and urban planning. But since I left the student society, no, I wouldn’t say I’ve had any burning aspirations to seek elected office elsewhere.”

Britta Jensen (‘01–‘02) on…

Getting into student politics:

“I first dabbled in student politics back in high school, in grade 12, when I was voted onto the graduation committee. A few friends of mine and myself decided that the group was too socially homogenous and conspired to get me onto the committee — it worked and I became the writer and publisher of the grad class newsletter. I called it “Filthy Lies and Sick Propaganda” like any good rebellious teenager would have.”

Her time as President:

“My presidency coincided with the election of the Liberals, which resulted in many impacts on students, most obviously the lifting of the tuition freeze . . . I learned what I had always suspected but hoped wasn’t entirely true — that governments often rule by ideology and you can work 70 hours weeks coming up with all the facts and numbers possible to prove that some process is flawed, but if that goes against the pervading belief held by the government, it doesn’t matter.”

Life after graduation:

“My mentor at SFU, Dr. John Clague in the Department of Earth Sciences, had a post-doctoral fellow at the time I worked for him. This individual went on to a faculty position at the University of Alberta and asked me to come along as his first MSc student. I did and ended up doing my PhD there as well. I have stayed in academics since then and am just completing my post-doctoral fellowship, which has been based in Belfast, UK.”

Her career:

“I learned an amazing amount about effective communication, negotiations, being tactful, writing and reading, and maintaining a calm facade in the face of adversary [from my time as president]. I think that helps in any career, and I find that the lessons I learned at the SFSS have come back to help me in all sorts of situations.”

Her peers:

“Tangentially because of mutual friends I know what some of them are up to, but haven’t really stayed in direct contact with them. I do know that the graduate rep at the time is now a professor! Way to go Mike!”

Chris Giacomantonio (‘04–‘05) on…

ChrisGiacomantonio

Getting into student politics:

“I was involved in a dispute with the SFU Athletics department [in 2002] and so I looked to the SFSS for support. This eventually put me in touch with Brynn Bourke, who was then a director with the SFSS, and after getting to know her and what she was about I joined her slate as a University Relations candidate.”

His time as President:

“I spent a year as University Relations Officer from 2003–04 and then ran for president and won for the 2004–05 term. I actually ran for Chancellor of SFU at the end of my term as president, in 2005 — that was the first election I’d ever lost.”

Life after graduation:

“After finishing my undergrad degree at SFU I got completely out of politics and advocacy, and became a dishwasher on the Drive. I spent the next two and a half years working in the service industry – I actually managed to become sous-chef of a casual dining restaurant in Halifax, my hometown, and then later helped a friend start up a burger-and-poutine joint called Willy’s. But while I was doing that I was also applying for grad schools.”

His career:

“I found a good opportunity at Dalhousie’s Sociology and Social Anthropology department. I completed an MA there under a professor named Chris Murphy, doing an ethnographic study of public police work in Halifax, and from there I was basically hooked on policing studies. I next went to Oxford to do a DPhil (what Oxford calls a PhD) in Criminology, and then found a job at RAND Europe when I was finishing my thesis. I’ve been there two years, and it’s amazing work.”

Political aspirations:

“In my final year with the SFSS, I realized that if I ever got involved in public policy, government, or politics on a larger stage, I wanted to have deeper area knowledge about specific policy issues outside of higher education policy, and as that last year went on I knew more and more that I just didn’t yet have that. knowledge . . . my time with the SFSS really made me want to know more and develop my own expertise.”

Clement Apaak (‘05–’06)

Born in Ghana, Clement Apaak came to SFU to pursue a PhD in Archaeology to supplement his M.Phil. in Archaeology from the University of Bergen, Norway and BA degree in archaelogy and history from the University of Ghana. While teaching classes at SFU, Apaak became the first international student to be elected to a university board of Governors in British Columbia, Canada, and the first African valedictorian of his graduating class. During this time, Apaak also founded Canadian Students for Darfur, a partner of Oxfam Canada. He has since gone on to become a presidential staffer for the government of Ghana.

Jeff McCann (‘11) on…

JeffMcCann

Getting into student politics:

“[I felt like in] my first year at SFU, [the student body] was really disengaged, really slow. I didn’t meet a lot of people, and I didn’t really have any reason to be on campus, so I really wanted to get involved. I saw that there were a lot of opportunities to make changes and make it a better environment for students.”

His time as President:

“It was definitely challenging because we had a great board who really wanted to accomplish a lot in one year, so we created a lot of projects that we wanted to get out of the way because we were tired [of] hearing about years and years of systemic issues with the society.”

His career:

“In the role that I’m in now (an account executive at Shaw Sabey & Associates), it’s very similar to being in the student society where you can take on as many projects as you can come up with . . . You’re not really afraid of much after you’ve sat down with the CFS lawyers, sat down with the CUPE national representation, or when you’re dealing with the university for Build SFU.”

Political aspirations:

“I personally haven’t put a lot of weight into the political future. I think it’s definitely possible, I’m definitely interested, but I wouldn’t say that, as a result of being on the SFSS board, I am in any way am prepared for, or am more or less interested in, politics on a larger scale.”

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