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A Day in the LifeCalvin Lamothe ’17, VSA President

It’s a Tuesday, and Calvin Lamothe ’17 doesn’t have his first class until noon, so he has time in the morning to relax in his townhouse, play his guitar for a few minutes, and catch up on some schoolwork.

But as he has done almost every day since he took office last spring as president of the Vassar Student Association, Lamothe will be focusing on VSA business quite a bit today. There are emails to answer on issues that arose at the weekly VSA meting two days earlier. He’ll spend nearly an hour discussing various issues with VSA advisor Michelle Ransom and then catch up on some work in his office with VSA intern Julian Corbett. His final task of the day: sending out his weekly all-campus email blast, filling students in on the latest news about upcoming events and policy changes, including pending modifications in campus dining procedures and options.

Asked if he’s ever kept track of the number of hours he spends each week as the VSA’s chief executive, Lamothe shakes his head. “No,” he says. “I’m afraid to.”

Which is not to say he doesn’t enjoy the challenge of overseeing an organization that distributes more than $900,000 to more than 100 student groups and represents student interests with the college administration and Board of Trustees. “It’s rewarding,” Lamothe says, “to be part of a living, breathing organization that gets things done, to experience how meaningful student government work can be.”

“As soon as I got out of the car for my visit, I knew this was the place. I liked the open curriculum, and it was the right size and had the right political atmosphere. And there were pianos all over the place.”

Lamothe first learned about Vassar through a college publication he received during his junior year of high school in Manchester, MA. A visit to the campus early in his senior year cemented his decision. “Almost as soon as I got out of the car for my visit, I knew this was the place,” he says. “I liked the open curriculum, and it was the right size and had the right political atmosphere. And there were pianos all over the place, and I’d been playing since I was 5. I decided to apply early decision, and I’ve never regretted it.”

Lamothe had been involved in student government in high school – he was class president his junior and senior year – but didn’t enjoy the experience. “It was more frustrating than rewarding,” he says. “All we did was organize some fundraisers for the prom; we didn’t have a lot of power and didn’t make a lot of difference.”

When Lamothe learned that Vassar’s student government did have the means to make a difference – it controls all of the money from student activity fees – he decided to sign on. He was the VSA freshman representative for his dorm, Jewett House, and was elected house president his sophomore year. When he was a junior, the VSA’s vice president for activities stepped down in the middle of the year and he filled in for the rest of the term, then ran for president and was elected last spring.

A psychology major, Lamothe has had to curtail most other extracurricular activities since becoming VSA president. But he still carves out time for his passion for music. A piano player for most of his life, he began playing the guitar about five years ago, and he’s working on his first album of original songs. He describes his music as “a blend of folk, indie, and pop, with influences ranging from Joni Mitchell and Simon & Garfunkel to contemporary artists like Gem Club and Sharon Van Etten.”

The major challenge for any VSA president, Lamothe says, is learning to juggle all the day-to-day chores while coping with the inevitable emergencies that arise. A recent VSA meeting ran longer than usual when Dean of the College Christopher Roellke fielded questions about the college’s response to a recent bias-related incident on campus. “You can set an agenda and make a plan, and then things happen, and you have to adapt,” Lamothe says. “That’s the job.”

Roellke says he and other administrators have been impressed with how well Lamothe has handled the job. “Calvin always brings diplomacy and insight to his work,” the dean says. “His leadership is highly inclusive and his calm and steady demeanor has served both his constituents and the college very well.  Student voices at Vassar are critical, and Calvin has been steadfast in ensuring that these voices are heard.”

Lamothe will devote much of his time this spring to overseeing the transition of the student government following VSA elections in April. He says he’d recommend the job to anyone who is willing to work hard to make a positive difference. “It’s a steep learning curve, and you have to put in a lot of time,” he says. “But building relationships and working with a lot of other people to see a project come to fruition, that’s certainly been rewarding.”