Going from high school jock to university government, Andrew Forgione has experienced it all. Being an athlete in high school as part of the cross-country, track and field, soccer and skiing teams, he says, prepared him for keeping a healthy active lifestyle in university. As Western’s 2011-12 University Student’s Council president, these habits helped manage his stress from an overwhelmingly demanding schedule. In the midst of balancing activities with politics, not to mention education, he graduated Western with a Sociology and Economics degree.
Here’s his advice to first-year students reflecting on what he has learned thus far:
Making it happen
- All you can do is the best that you can do. When you do, good things will follow.
- In first-year, I got involved with Social Science through ‘Sophing,’ being the department representative as well as being on the residence council. I was never the one to choose to do it. Other people always told me that I’d be good for that position. People just tended to believe in the ideas I had and that gives me motivation to do them.
- I founded the Canadian Italian Awareness organization at Western with a couple friends of mine. We decided that Western was missing this cultural club. Even though there’s a big Italian population we weren’t vocal or outspoken like some of the other cultural clubs so we felt we needed that on our campus.
- If you can go out and discover why Western is so great that will give you the best student experience.
- You don’t need a title to be a leader.
The Western vibe
- As soon as the sun comes out students are everywhere.
- I stayed in London over the summer for the first time last year and that was a great feeling. You see the students laid back and sitting on University College Hill reading books. This campus just has so much character and so much vibe I think it makes me enjoy the little things as much as the staples like Homecoming.
- I think that the students here are really generous and very respectful. I think of times when I had to go to the washroom while studying in Weldon Library and the student sitting beside me would watch my laptop for me. You just trust a stranger, but you know because they’re a Western student that they’re a special type of stranger. It’s an instinct because you are colleagues, you’re both going to be alumni together. I think that’s what it takes to be a Western student.
The next step
- I want to travel to England for post-grad. I never got the opportunity to go on an exchange at Western and it’s something I completely recommend for students during their undergraduate experience.
Challenges and triumphs
- In fourth-year, I focused so much on my campaign I took a wrong course that affected my graduation time. So I had to take one course fifth-year, which meant I am graduating in a different year. I was overinvolved fourth-year, so my mind wasn’t really in academics and I ended up overlooking something so simple.
- I remember the day in October in my fourth-year when my friend came up to me and said I want you to run for USC president, a lot of people have faith in you and think you can carry student ideas forward in a non-political way. I was always that upfront person; I’m a normal person and that’s what shocked a lot of students this year – to see me at the movies. They think it’s a removed position; but really, it’s not at all.
- Every position I’ve ever been involved with I just focus on day-to-day tasks, did them very well and they were reflected at the end of the year when you list all those tasks that you’ve done. It turns into a massive document of your final report, which turned out to be 40 pages. You work so hard every day you don’t really need to envision that far ahead.
- Any political office job is a lot of pressure and you have a lot of eyes watching all the time. For me, we get so many emails, phone calls and meetings every day that you spread yourself thin over the organization. But I always tried to avoid that because I like focusing on one thing and doing it very well rather than doing a variety of things and only doing them marginally well so that was my hardest challenge.
- Staying healthy is my goal, but it’s tough. I try to get to the gym three times a week, but it’s taken a toll on diet for sure. I’m constantly eating conference food. But I’m sure (Western president Amit) Chakma’s diet must be way worse if I’m already complaining about it.
A word from the wise
- Read the mass emails you get because they have opportunity written all over them. I don’t think first-years have that problem anymore of not knowing about all the opportunities because they are being bombarded with information all of the time.
- Western has been boasting every year they have the best student experience in Canada. And I think it’s true. But you have to go out and find why it’s that best student experience. You need to go ask questions and learn why we’re such a beautiful campus. You need to go walk by the river. You have to go into our oldest residences and experience the character, learn the tunnel system, explore how amazing our campus is. But on the other side, there are so many clubs, faculty councils and opportunities Western provides that students have to actively go out and get it. There’s no way these coordinators are going to knock on their door and ask them to apply for a job or join a club. You have to knock on theirs. That’s what I did and that’s why my student experience was so great.
Growing with Western
- I used to be very introverted in first-year and barely got involved in anything. Whereas now I’m a community partner; I’ve done more than 100 speaking events; I’ve spoken to audiences as large as 7,000 people. I have more confidence in myself and more confidence in what I’m capable of doing, and I think that’s what student leadership teaches you.
- I’m much more in tune to what type of person I am. Receiving criticism from people is never easy, but this year has taught me you need thick skin because you can please 99 per cent of the students but that 1 per cent is still going to bother you. I take all the criticism I’ve gotten and I learn from it.
My support system
- My family always supports me. It’s tough sometimes because I can’t go home for a month or so, but they were here on my election night and they’ll be here when I’m moving my stuff out of my office. They’re that kind of strong support to me that I needed throughout this process.
- My dad’s in business so a lot of the time I consulted him for the corporate side of this job, whereas my mom provided me with the spiritual relaxing side of the job. You really need to have an outlet or else you get over-stressed.
- I’ve had the best Western experience hands down and I couldn’t have asked for anything else.