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Childhood friendship links student body presidents in Boston

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Christian Brink/Gordon College News Service
June 13, 2011
— In the fifth grade, Jesse Adams and Arthur Emma were called to the principal’s office for selling fireworks in their school cafeteria in Lake Geneva.

Years later when they left home to attend college in the Boston area—Adams at Gordon College and Emma at Boston University—the two decided to invest in something with a bigger payoff: leadership.


Adams, 22, a business major, and Emma 22, a business and philosophy major, spent the past year as student body presidents. Adams graduated May 21 and Emma on May 22. The childhood friends balanced demanding senior schedules, a social life beyond Facebook, and future careers to help lead their peers and other college leaders.


“There’s nobody who can really represent the voice of the students as well as student body elected leaders,” Emma said.


Not only have Adams and Emma focused on serving their schools, they’ve built relationships between other local universities as founders of the Boston Council of Undergraduate Student Presidents.


The group of student body presidents and vice presidents from area colleges has gathered throughout the year to discuss how best to improve and lead the institutions. In addition to Gordon and Boston University, council representatives include Berklee, Brandeis, Emerson, Endicott, Harvard, Tufts and Wellesley.


Despite differences between Gordon and Boston University—Gordon is a small Christian liberal arts college on the North Shore with 1,600 students whereas Boston University is a large urban university with an undergraduate class of 16,000—Adams and Emma helped with each other’s election campaigns. As a result, they wanted to apply their successful collaboration on a larger scale by inviting other student presidents to join the student presidents council.


“It became clear we were all facing similar challenges with relationships and strategies but with similar opportunities as well,” Adams said.


So Adams and Emma cashed in on their friendship again to gather other leaders for mutual support.


They’d come a long way since first entering college, when neither planned to run for student body president. Adams wanted a break from student government after involvement in high school, and Emma was focused on days that started at 4:45 a.m. as part of the Boston University rowing team.


But in the fall of 2009 while Adams was abroad at the University of Edinburgh, they began discussing the possibility of leadership at their respective schools and began brainstorming creative campaign strategies for the spring 2010 elections.


Both were elected.


Adams saw the possibility of growth at Gordon. He wanted to expand alumni networking in career services and spent much of his senior year implementing that change.


“Jesse has great characteristics as a leader within his peer group as well as influencing those within a variety of generations,” said Adrianne Cook, director of Gordon’s alumni and parent relations.


Cook worked with Adams to improve alumni opportunities, and Adams attended alumni board meetings and organized new alumni-student networking events.


For Emma, his campaign was motivated by his love for the university and the learning opportunity the position offered.


“People don’t understand how much of a microcosm student government is to the real world,” Emma said. “Every political issue you deal with on a national level you deal with at schools.”


John Battaglino, executive director of student activities and operations at Boston University, said of Emma: “Just by nature of our size, you’ve got to take on a bigger personality. He’s been able to rise to that challenge. He has a keen ability to make your issues his issues.”


David Lumsdaine of Gordon’s political science department, recognized similar traits in Adams.


“Jesse has said to me more than once that it doesn’t bother him when people have different political views than his,” Lumsdaine said. “What bothers him are people who are apathetic.”


What’s next for the two friends?


Adams will head to Washington, D.C., in hopes of working with a nonprofit organization that focuses on connecting and developing the next generation of young professionals.


Emma will join Teach For America in the Boston area, an organization that works to eliminate education inequalities in urban and public schools.


“Being a leader is the complete opposite of what I went into student government thinking,” Emma said. “A lot of the time being a leader is being in the background and allowing others to be leaders as well.”


Adams agreed.


“My dad always said you return something to someone better than you found it,” Adams said. “In short, that’s what we hope we accomplished this year.”



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