This week’s That Guy is down to earth, creative, environmentally conscious and loves a heated debate. Zach Pilchen is different: he has eaten termites, lived in a box for a week and saved a girl’s life. There’s no doubt he’ll add a fresh perspective to his latest: Student Assembly president.
p. **Why did you decide to come to William and Mary?**
p. William and Mary was not only the largest school I applied to, it was the only public school and only school in the South. I applied to a bunch of Northern and Midwestern private, progressive liberal arts schools, but when I visited those schools I realized that for all their progressive values and liberalism, for the most part, all the students thought the same. There was no real ideological diversity. For someone like me who loves argument and debate, that was a real turn-off. If your views, ideas or opinions are never challenged, there’s a tendency to grow too comfortable, almost to the point of laziness. Some of my best friends at William and Mary are diehard conservatives. I may not agree with a single thing they say, but I still respect them and love to engage them in political discourse.
p. **What is your proudest accomplishment during your tenure at the College?**
p. I once rescued a girl from drowning in the Crim Dell in the middle of the night by paddling her to safety in my kayak. It’s a long story, but it involves this girl … weighted down by wet clothes, frantically struggling to keep her head above water, yelling for help — and me, majestically kayaking over and offering her the tip of my paddle. Anyway, [she] now owes her life to me.
p. **Why did you have a kayak?**
p. Some of the kids were finishing the triathlon and I, having completed the triathlon in full during Freshman Orientation, didn’t really feel like crawling back in the Crim Dell.
p. **Is that the craziest thing you have ever done?**
p. No. I lived in an enclosed, eight-by-eight foot wooden box with two friends from high school for an entire school week, with no access to the outside world. We called it the, “Transcendental Human Endurance Challenge and Unstimulated Brain Experiment”— THECUBE for short. We deprived ourselves of all access to the outside world, had lights on, had our food passed through a death row-style series of sliding doors and went to the bathroom in a five-gallon paint bucket full of kitty litter. Oh, and we broadcast the whole thing over the internet via webcam. Anyway, the project became something of a sensation in our high school. The principal even postponed classes the morning we were to enter THECUBE so that students could attend the ceremony. We started to go completely insane as the project drew to a close and we were starving for any sort of mental stimuli. I still don’t know why we did this.
p. **How did you manage to get out of classes for that whole week?**
p. My high school (Georgetown Day School) let seniors out of school a month early to participate in “Senior Quests” … essentially an independent project. Some students made movies, some reviewed all the cheeses in the Cheesecake Factory and we built THECUBE.
p. **What made you want to run for SA?**
p. I’m someone who is happiest when I have a wide variety of things to do. Maybe it’s because of my latent ADD, but I love being able to go from planning a voter registration drive, to reviewing college alcohol policies, to engaging in a philosophical argument on gender-blind housing. The Student Assembly is unique on campus as far as the wide variety of issues you get to address, and that’s what originally attracted me to it.
p. **How was it decided that you would run for president and junior Valerie Hopkins for vice president?**
p. As a senator last year for the Class of 2009, I started toying in my head with the idea of running for SA President when The Flat Hat published a Fall Senate Report Card showing, in pretty explicit terms, that I had been busting my butt for the past several months. I didn’t really know who I would run with at that point, or even if I’d run at all, but after having a heated argument with Valerie about college judicial policies — she was on Judicial Council at the time — I realized that our differing viewpoints and passion for debate could make us a really dynamite team. I guess because I had been in SA for a year and knew the ins and outs of the organization already, it was sort of assumed that I would run for president and Val for vice president, but we don’t place much credence in our titles. We ran as a team and we work as a team. We don’t see eye to eye on every issue, which is great because it means we debate each other and try to arrive at solutions that best work for the whole student body.
p. **If you could only successfully execute one reform, which would it be?**
p. This would be earth-shatteringly huge, but if ever the student body was given absolute authority over the contents of the Student Handbook, almostevery other on-campus reform would follow. Students would have absolute control over the policies that affect their quality of life. That being said, Val and I have found the administration to be extremely responsive to students needs.
p. **I know you have been highly involved with Student Environmental Action Coalition since your freshman year. What ignited your passion about environmental issues?**
p. Through elementary and middle school, I attended Burgundy Farm Country Day School in Alexandria, Va. The school buildings were sprinkled throughout 25 acres of forest, and you had to walk through the woods to get to classes. Burgundy’s hands-on approach to learning about the environment catalyzed my interest in it. In junior year of high school [I went] on a 10- day trip through Belize. Those days were, without a doubt, the 10 most influential days of my life — much more significant than the ten days of campaigning Val and I went through last spring.
p. We bushwhacked through rain forest with Ketchi Mayans, ate sticks full of termites, canoed with manatees, hiked through muddy downpours, sang Dispatch songs around the campfire and gained more respect for nature than I ever could have gotten from sitting in a classroom. In case you’re curious, termites taste like airline peanuts.