News & Features » News and Features

Win or Lose

A college junior seeks an office he thought he always wanted.


But what really got him thinking was a speech by the president of the men's student government association (at UR, there is a men's and a women's student government). Allen walked up to the president, he recalls, "And I told him that I would be in his spot one day."

He seemed on track. He was engaging and confident, a compact 5-foot-6 former high-school wrestler who kicked off an interest in politics when he was elected student council representative in seventh grade. At the end of his first year at UR, a committee of students and faculty named him "Most Significant Contributor to the Freshman Class."

Two weeks ago, the time came for him to decide whether to run for president. The junior weighed his options for his upcoming senior year. He had enjoyed serving as a student-government senator. He had also become a leader in the off-campus high-school ministry Young Life. Two worlds of opportunity.

His decision was determined when he realized that only one other candidate had emerged — Braxton Bragg, a dark-eyed accounting and leadership studies major from the town of Skaneateles, N.Y., who was a student government vice president. "I've always wanted to improve the school," Bragg said last week, wearing a dark suit with a tie patterned in red and blue, the university colors. "Politics is a passion, I guess."

But what would politics be without mandates, the competition of ideas, the debates and buttons and posters and speeches? Would UR's men have only one choice for president? "Well, I can't let that happen," Allen said.

And so the campaigning began. He enrolled his apartment mate, senior Ken Kraper, to be his campaign manager. He came up with a platform. He called on his friends and knocked on doors. "He's really had his tie on the whole time," Kraper said. Allen even set up a campaign Web site. He had studied this stuff: He is majoring in leadership studies and political science, and working on a triple minor in religion, law in the liberal arts, and rhetoric and communications studies.

Voter support was there.

"Hunter's amazing at everything he does," said his friend, Brian Griffith. Likewise, Allen seemed to be likable, the kind of guy friends love to poke fun at. Last week, when the candidate had stepped out from his room, several friends questioned his organizational skills, pointing to a pile of laundry on the floor.

"My clothes are in this pile because he borrows them without asking," Allen's roommate, Tom Gregorio, good-naturedly griped.

"I feel like it's a big pile of leaves I can jump in," Kristen Emersen said.

"Big, smelly Hunter leaves," Kraper added.

Then Emersen, Kraper and Griffith headed off for the student commons, where the results of the online voting were about to be announced. They joined about 15 guys in a hallway, including Allen and Bragg. The long nights of campaigning were over. The students had spoken. At 10:33 p.m., the senate's current president, Chris Rathlev, emerged with a piece of paper in his hands.

"I'd like to congratulate Braxton Bragg, with 65 percent of the vote," Rathlev said. There was light applause. Allen and Bragg shook hands. The group stood around, unsure of what to do next.

"I'm a lame duck as of now," said Rathlev, wearing a baseball cap backward. He was prepared to hand over the gavel, he said. "It's the greatest year of your life that you never want to do again."

Bragg, who wants to pursue a career in corporate management, was conciliatory. "Both of us tried really hard," he said. Nearby, his campaign manager, Mike Gray, wearing a suit, tie and Braxton Bragg button, remained on message: "He's a great leader on this campus."

Allen headed back to the on-campus apartment he shares with three roommates, No. 402. He sat on one of three sofas in the living room, decorated with state flags, a sound system and a life-size cardboard cutout of President George W. Bush wearing a Santa hat on top of his head. Gregorio strummed a guitar, playing "Meaning" by Gavin DeGraw:

You, through the grapevine, heard the truth

It's good to learn from your mistakes

But that only works in youth

Love has a reason

There's a meaning to the world

Life at 21. The postelection party stretched on. Friends came and went. Becca Ponder and Kristen Habicht, two seniors with their hair pulled back, bounced into the room singing, bringing Allen an ice-cream cone. Habicht wore a homemade sign on her chest: "Hunter, now you have time to DATE ME!!" A visibly tired Allen smiled.

By 1:05 a.m., Allen was considering his 502-262 loss (half the men on campus voted). At least he created some competition, he said, and Bragg had earned a mandate. And he received the answer to a question he was seeking about his next year at UR, his last: "Is this where I want to be, and is this where God wants me to be?"

Maybe being president wasn't part of the plan, after all. Now, Allen said, he would have the time to pursue a leadership position in Young Life, a growing passion. "I just really believe strongly in the will of God, and providence," he said, leaning back into the sofa. "And I just want to do one thing really well." S

Managing Editor Jason Roop served as president of the men's student government at UR from 1994 to 1995.

Add a comment