New student leaders say their mission is to listen
By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau
Darion Padilla and Ben Claypool were speechless when they were handed election results late on Friday, Jan. 29.
A record-setting turnout of 6,579, fueled by the ease of voting on the GCU Engage app, had elected Padilla as President of the Associated Students of Grand Canyon University (ASGCU) and Claypool as his Executive Vice President in a close win over two opponents.
“From Wednesday through Friday morning it was razor thin, so finding out later Friday, Ben and I were ecstatic, so much so that I couldn’t even read the results,” Padilla said. “Ben had to tell me we won, and I didn’t believe him. For 15 minutes I couldn’t put into words how I was feeling.”
The pair who will lead the student body government in the 2021-22 academic year didn’t celebrate long.
The work begins quickly this week, interviewing for positions for a staff of 49 students, toward a goal of bouncing back in the fall after a challenging year while improving a campus they have found so welcoming.
Both are students from the Valley — Padilla from a Christian high school in Peoria and Claypool from a public school in Gilbert – who loved the Christ-centered spirit of the community from the time they set foot on campus.
“Walking around campus you can hear the music on campus, people are smiling and laughing – that’s my favorite part — and being able to continue that now through ASGCU, I couldn’t be more excited,” Claypool said.
A goal for the team is to hear the opinions of as many of those students as possible. It’s easy to get in a bubble of friends, many of whom are also in student leadership and think everything is running smoothly, Padilla said. But he wants to assure students that they are determined to reach out and explore other students’ ideas, even those with which they don’t immediately agree.
“I feel like students have an overwhelming need to be communicated with. Sometimes students feel like, even on a small-ish campus like ours, they can get lost in the crowd,” the government and communications major said. “While we represent what is now more than 22,000 students, we want to focus on as many as we can and make sure we know what is important to them and that their needs are being advocated for, especially students who feel like they are in the minority.
“At the end of the day, it’s ASGCU’s mission to advocate for and serve all students – and all means all.”
It’s part of the reason he picked Claypool as his running mate. The marketing major is currently the Marketing Director of the Canyon Activities Board (CAB), a group Padilla calls “like the fun, younger sibling of ASGCU,” which often takes on more serious initiatives.
“In CAB, we are sometimes seen as the most approachable group on campus with our tablings and events,” Claypool said. “That’s what I feel like I can bring to ASGCU – change up the culture a bit. I’m going to bring a new outlook and approachability.”
Claypool oversees 12 senators, who will be encouraged to take the pulse of the campus and report back their ideas, which will be taken to University administration.
The coming year will be important after all the adjustments forced by COVID, said Padilla, who has served in various roles at ASGCU for three years.
“We hope that next year will be a return to normalcy after the summer and into the fall, and I hope that we will have a good opportunity to show sophomores and incoming freshmen what the GCU experience is, as opposed to the pandemic experience,” he said.
Among their priorities are making the campus more environmentally sustainable.
Less use of plastic, water and electricity and increasing recycling efforts are all on their radar as they talk with departments about issues previously addressed but, they believe, still needing improvement.
“It’s not only important to Ben and me, it’s important to students on this campus for GCU to become a leader in the country and state of Arizona in sustainability,” Padilla said. “God tasks us with taking care of the earth, and at the end of the day as a Christian I think we should be front and center with a sustainable plan into the future.”
Not all are big-picture ideas. Some are about easing campus life, such as advocating for a stoplight on Camelback Road and the 29th Avenue entrance to GCU, where it can be difficult to turn left on the busy road. They have already consulted with Public Safety and heard from students who want the light.
“I know that seems like a small thing, but it really impacts the commuter population and students who live on campus and leave often,” Claypool said.
They’re excited to begin this work for GCU.
“I had a super strong calling to come here, and it’s just been an amazing experience to be on campus and get to be in leadership,” Padilla said. “I love this community.”
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.
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