Two campus tours, exposure to the “close-knit” student body and the trees around campus led Class of 2020 President Kelsey Vita ’20 to the College of William and Mary. A year later, her commitment to her graduating class and her dream of serving in the U.S. Senate keep her grounded in Williamsburg.
“The first time I visited the campus was because my mom made me,” Vita said. “I didn’t really want to go because I was hell-bent on going to college in the Northeast, but my mom really wanted me to visit and thought I’d really love William and Mary. As soon as I toured, I realized I really loved it, and it was the only school I ended up applying to. The community here was so friendly; I could see what a close-knit environment it was. It was clear that everyone knew each other. Also, the campus is so beautiful — it felt very homey. … I wanted a place with lots of trees.”
On campus, Vita is a member of the Passing Notes A capella group, the campus organizer for Books Not Bombs and is a member and former historian of Young Democrats. However, she said her involvement with Student Assembly has defined her time at the College the most.
SA has been my biggest time commitment and a focal point — it’s what’s defined my experience in a lot of ways,” Vita said. “It’s not just the work that we do but the people I’ve connected to through it. It’s given me a lot of opportunity to do a lot of outreach to the members of the class of 2020. If it weren’t for SA, there are so many people I wouldn’t have gotten to talk to, and it’s helped me grow so much as a student and made me aware of a wide variety of campus issues.”
“SA has been my biggest time commitment and a focal point — it’s what’s defined my experience in a lot of ways,” Vita said. “It’s not just the work that we do but the people I’ve connected to through it. It’s given me a lot of opportunity to do a lot of outreach to the members of the class of 2020. If it weren’t for SA, there are so many people I wouldn’t have gotten to talk to, and it’s helped me grow so much as a student and made me aware of a wide variety of campus issues.”
When Vita first arrived on campus, she wasn’t planning on running for class president and had no idea that within a few weeks of arriving, she’d earn 41 percent of her class’s vote, helping her beat out the other seven contenders. However, a few months later, Vita ran again for re-election and won in an uncontested race.
It all started when one interest meeting sparked her desire to help students voice their concerns on campus.
“I had a lot of passion about William and Mary,” Vita said. “I wanted to talk to people and get to know them, and I thought being class president would be a good opportunity to help students voice their concerns. It was really an impulsive decision, but I really became set on it while campaigning. It’s very all-encompassing if you want to do it well and pass bills and plan initiatives. It takes a lot of time outside of meetings, going is just the bare minimum, but I love it, and it’s been incredible. It’s better than I thought it would be. It’s something I would recommend to anyone who wants to try and improve William and Mary in any way and is ready to work really hard.”
In October 2016, Vita began work on her first bill — Transgender Awareness Week — which she helped plan in cooperation with the Lambda Alliance and SA’s former Secretary of Diversity Erica West ’17. The week consisted of events and initiatives centered on the experiences of transgender people.
“It was my first bill, and it was nerve-wracking, but it was really wonderful to work on, and we planned a week of events centered around transgender experiences and speaking about transgender issues,” Vita said. “I am not aware of Student Assembly doing something like that in the past, and Lambda plans a lot of wonderful events on campus that SA hadn’t really gotten involved with before. I really liked that we were able to move SA in that direction and use our platform to plan events that appealed to different communities on campus.”
Later in the year, Vita began work on what she sees as the most impactful piece of legislation she worked on in her first year — the Books Not Bombs Resolution. This was a resolution she sponsored in partnership with Nairuti Shastry ’17 that, through the national Books Not Bombs organization, aims to create scholarships for Syrian refugees at the College.
“The Books Not Bombs Resolution was something I really loved working on,” Vita said. “It felt relevant to outside issues, and it was meaningful to me because it had big implications outside of Student Assembly and outside of William and Mary. It got me more interested in the broader issue, and now I’m working on it independently, so it’s sort of an example of how SA has led me to other activist paths.”
When Shastry graduated this past spring, Vita decided to become the College’s campus organizer for the larger national organization. Because she had attended several meetings with administrators while sponsoring the resolution, she learned that helping Syrian refugees was something she was passionate about. Now, she’s working to build the College’s chapter of Books Not Bombs.
This semester, she’s planning events to raise student awareness of the Syrian refugee crisis, holding meetings with administrators and planning fundraisers for the national fellowship scholarship through Books Not Bombs, which provides emergency scholarships for refugee students who might face road blocks in education.
For example, if a refugee student’s tuition rises and they are no longer able to pay it, they could apply for the fellowship scholarship. Vita said she also plans to get more involved with Syrian refugees in the Williamsburg area.
When she’s not busy drafting legislation, Vita can be found at her A capella rehearsals with Passing Notes, an organization she auditioned for in her freshman spring semester.
One memory I have, that we actually recreated this past weekend for our new members, was when I got into the group, they showed up at my door and sang out front of it to let me know that I had gotten in. It was a welcoming to Passing Notes,” Vita said. “It was a personal moment, and it was sweet, and I really felt welcomed into the group. It felt like I had known them for so much longer than one night.”
“One memory I have, that we actually recreated this past weekend for our new members, was when I got into the group, they showed up at my door and sang out front of it to let me know that I had gotten in. It was a welcoming to Passing Notes,” Vita said. “It was a personal moment, and it was sweet, and I really felt welcomed into the group. It felt like I had known them for so much longer than one night.”
While Vita said she’s often busy with her various student organizations, she tries to find time to run into Ewell Hall between classes to play piano, which she finds relaxing. In the rest of her free time, she focuses on creative writing, particularly poetry. She also loves reading and running around Williamsburg.
Although she has almost three years left at the College, Vita has big dreams for her future. Her ultimate goal is to end up in the U.S. Senate, although she knows she has to go to graduate school first.
Vita is a government and English double major, but she’s planning on attending law school or pursuing a graduate degree in political science. Before she ends up as a senator, she wants to work for a think tank, on Capitol Hill or for an organization like the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“[Since I’ve been at William and Mary] I’m a lot more comfortable with myself, maybe more confident, but I think mostly just more comfortable with who I am and what I want,” Vita said. “William and Mary is a place where you can try a lot of different things and explore what you’re interested in, and I really got that my freshman year. I feel a lot more grounded. I let myself explore different things that I was interested in on campus. I came in set on doing government and maybe economics, and I was fixated on getting into law school, but I realized that might not be what I wanted, and now I’m also going to be an English major, which makes me really happy. William and Mary opened my mind to what I wanted.”