Leading the Student Body Out of a Pandemic

Student Body President Brendan Sudberry addresses the Class of 2025 at Westminster College’s convocation.

August 18, 2021

by Maggie Regier (‘20)

When community has defined your college experience, how do you reignite it in the midst of a growing pandemic—a pandemic that revealed just how essential community is to your growth and happiness? As the 2019–20 student body president, I ended my undergrad years at Westminster as COVID-19 separated our community physically. I sat down with this year’s student body president, Brendan Sudberry, as he prepared to welcome our community back together at Convocation to hear what he had to say about leading the student body out of a pandemic and back to campus.

I like to think of Convocation as the bookend holding up the beginning of my college experience. Commencement is the other bookend. Westminster’s Convocation is a formal affair with bagpipers, faculty dressed in regalia, and students processing under a blooming thistle arch to mark their entrance into the Westminster community. New students walk through a clap-line of faculty and staff who cheer them on now and over the next four years, and a lineup of speakers officially welcome them into the fray. As he prepared his speech for the incoming class, Brendan channeled community—a theme that has become rooted in his experiences at Westminster College.

“Community really is what Westminster is about,” Brendan says. This idea guides his work for the upcoming school year. He plans to focus on building a community that is energetic, engaged, and full of spirit. He wants students to feel ownership over their experience and be proud to be a Westminster student.

Getting back to campus after two years of being remote is going to be difficult. Tiring. “We are still in the middle of this big traumatic thing,” Brendan says. “But this fall offers an opportunity to craft a sense of community with a new vision. All we need is the students. They’re the reason we do everything we do.”

At the Convocation ceremony formally welcoming new Griffins into our community, Brendan shared the raw emotions he once felt in their shoes and exactly why they chose the right community to hold them up. 

Brendan Sudberry Convocation 2021 Speech

Student Body President Brendan Sudberry addresses the Class of 2025 at Westminster College’s convocation.

Hello, Class of 2025. I am so excited to see you all here, in person, getting ready to embark on your college adventure as new Griffins. I remember a short three years ago when I was sitting through this ceremony: excitedly anticipating what my life here at Westminster would be like, who my friends would become, and what all I would get involved in. At the same time though, I was scared. It was my first time moving away from home, let alone out of state, and I was living with new people I had only met days earlier. I already knew I loved Westminster, but I couldn’t help but wonder if I would truly fit in here. But something I quickly learned: Westminster means community. At its core, a community is a group of people who are united by shared circumstance. In our case, choosing to attend the same college. And it is that choice, to study here, that has launched you into this community. Together, we will celebrate your accomplishments, catch you when you fall, and commit to your success—academically and personally. When I started my Westminster journey, I had just come from a performing arts high school where I spent the four years prior focused almost exclusively on theatre. Coming here was all part of the plan. I was positive that I was going to get my BFA in technical theatre, go on to get my master’s in stage management from some prestigious school on the East Coast, and eventually take over Broadway. I had it all figured out, and I felt good. Then a dear friend introduced me to the Dumke Center for Civic Engagement, where I ended up working for two years. The Dumke Center introduced me to the worlds of nonprofits and public service, two areas I had never really encountered before. This initiated a crisis in me that resulted in changing my major from theatre to poli sci, to a short stint in pre-med and, finally, communication. I was never without a group of advisors, professors, and mentors behind me. They all wanted to see me happy and successful no matter what my academic path ended up being because Westminster means support. So, while I’m sure many of you are like me and also have your lives figured out to the tee, consider this: college is about exploration. It’s about finding that spark that excites you—even if it’s somewhere unexpected. So go on and take that class that isn’t related to your major, join a new club, and try out an on-campus job, because even though it might be scary, the Westminster community will be right beside you. Even over the past year, while COVID-19 forced us to become physically separated, we remained resilient; finding new ways to connect, remain engaged, and care for one another despite the uncertain circumstances. But Westminster is back, and all we need now is you. Leave here today ready to take advantage of all the opportunities our school has to offer. Westminster is where Alvaro Cortez, Class of 2020, created the first Spanish-speaking high school Shakespeare team in Utah; it’s where Sally Miller, Class of 2019, became a Fulbright Scholar; it’s where Michelle Leo, Class of 2002 and 2009, began planning her award-winning events firm; where Mark Wheatly, Class of 1989, started his journey to the Utah House of Representatives, and it’s where, I, a queer, first-generation college student, was elected to be your student body president. At Westminster, you can do anything you put your mind to, and I’m so excited to see what you do. Thank you.