Student Government celebrates transition of power

Landon Coles delivers remarks during the Student Government inauguration ceremony on Tuesday, April 13. Photo: Evan Garcia/University of Miami
By Ashley A. Williams

Landon Coles delivers remarks during the Student Government inauguration ceremony on Tuesday, April 13. Photo: Evan Garcia/University of Miami

Student Government celebrates transition of power

By Ashley A. Williams
Members of the University administration and peers congratulated outgoing president Abigail Adeleke on her unparalleled presidential experience and welcomed Landon Coles into the role as Student Government president at a ceremony on Tuesday.

This year’s Student Government inauguration looked somewhat more familiar than it did last year, when Abigail Adeleke and her cabinet were sworn into office virtually. Though masks and social distancing served as a reminder that the pandemic is ongoing, an in-person ceremony was carefully hosted on the Foote University Green Tuesday evening to swear in and welcome the 2021-22 executive board.

Landon Coles, a Ronald A. Hammond Scholar majoring in political science; Ajiri Uzere, a political science and psychology double major; and Grace Tenke, a finance major, were sworn in as the University of Miami undergraduate Student Government president, vice president, and treasurer, respectively.

With a campaign titled “The Uproar,” the trio ran with a clear mission to establish transparent policies that encourage greater social cohesion; connect students with professionals; and actively benchmark and communicate ideas, initiatives, and policies with peers. 

Adeleke, the outgoing president, opened the ceremony by thanking University administration, faculty, staff, and her peers for everything they have accomplished during her tenure. She welcomed Jeffrey Duerk, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost, to the podium to give his remarks before Patricia A. Whitely, senior vice president of student affairs, shared her memories of the outgoing executive board. 

“I don’t think any of you can appreciate how meaningful it is to see all of you in three-dimensions,” Duerk said jokingly as he addressed the audience. “I especially want to acknowledge our outgoing executive board—Abigail, Shirley Gelman, and Amanda Rodriguez. This leadership team has really been critical representatives of the student voice through all of our COVID-19 policies and everything that the pandemic has brought us.” 

It’s no secret that Adeleke and her team faced unique challenges during their administration. Leadership and peers agreed that the outgoing executive board went above and beyond its call of duty—from navigating the global pandemic to ensuring every student felt heard as the country tackled a social justice reckoning. 

“No one, and I mean no one, could have ever thought that our administration would be battling a racial and viral pandemic,” said Adeleke. “We had to make the really tough decision as an executive board. We were going to have to do what we could with what we had and that meant changing course, creating initiatives that met the moment—but it never meant discarding our dreams and ambitions.”

President Julio Frenk’s 15-point plan on racial justice was developed with input from the outgoing administration. 

“She [Adeleke] had a different role, because she not only had to do all the student government stuff, but she was always advocating for students,” said Whitely, who recalled the personal relationship she forged with Adeleke over the past year. “It was a result of all her hard work that Courageous Conversations was created.” 

Following Whitely’s speech, Adrian Nuñez, community engagement coordinator at the University and the 2017-18 student government president, presented Adeleke with a seal of the City of Coral Gables to commemorate her successful presidency. 

Awards were also given to students and faculty members for their extraordinary commitments. The awards presented were: 

  • Miles Pendleton—Golden Hurricane Awardpresented to a member of Student Government who made an outstanding contribution while not necessarily serving in a key leadership position.
  • Bao Duong—Patricia A. Whitely Unsung Hero Awardrecognizes a student, staff, or faculty member who has made outstanding contributions that are not widely known or acknowledged, while neither being involved in nor having a role within Student Government. 
  • Maria Galli Stampino, senior associate dean for faculty affairs and college diversity, College of Arts and Sciences—William R. Butler Award for Administrative Excellencerecognizes faculty or staff members who made critical contributions to completing Student Government initiatives.  

To recognize students for their contributions during the past year were Renee Dickens Callan, executive director of student life; Joshua Brandfon, senior director of student activities, student organizations, and student center complex programs; and Heather Stevens, assistant director of divisional initiatives.

 

Before the ceremony concluded, the incoming administration stood before the crowd to take their oath and officially assume office. Executive board members Uzere and Tenke both expressed their excitement to take over and said that they are looking forward to getting to work.

“I’m so humbled and honored,” said Uzere. “Freshman year we were at the inauguration and now I’m in the inauguration. That’s a dream I never saw coming, and I’m just so blessed to be doing it alongside Landon and Grace.” 

“I’m just so excited that the student body voted in our favor and want us to represent them,” said Tenke. “I’m confident that we will do our very best to support our university community and support change and hopefully enact change for years to come.”  

To close out the ceremony, Coles shared a few parting words.

“When I asked Grace and Ajiri to join me last April, I knew then that we were setting out on a journey that would lead us to this moment,” said Coles, who aspired to become student government president the moment he stepped foot onto the Coral Gables Campus four years ago. “For the last year—and even before that—we have been working, laying a foundation, and rooting ourselves within our community, and that doesn’t stop.”

Though he’s been working hard and nonstop for this moment, Coles went on to say, “I’m just getting started.” Coles also added that he and his team members are committed to the campus community and look forward to representing each and every student on campus for the next academic year.