Ben Vester, a Political Science and Economics double major from Morgantown, West Virginia, earned the honor of being one of Roanoke’s three valedictorians this year, as well as Senior Scholar in Political Science. He originally came to Roanoke because he wanted to play soccer on the D3 level at a small liberal arts school. His choice proved valuable. After ending his athletic career his freshman year, he was able to benefit from a well-rounded experience at Roanoke.
Although Vester was involved in many student organizations during his four years, he said “the two that stick out when I think back were the Center for Civic Engagement and the Public Affairs Society.” As secretary for the Public Affairs Society, he was able to work with the rest of the executive board to host events on campus, including when world-renowned political theorist Patrick Deneen spoke on campus this past spring.
As an alternative break leader with CCE, Vester led service education trips to rural West Virginia and inner-city New York. He also was able to work on R-House construction as part of his work with Habitat for Humanity, saying he “was lucky enough to be a part of the process from building the frame of the house in August heat in the Hawthorne parking lot during orientation to speaking at the house’s dedication the morning after a light December snowfall.”
Vester said his favorite memory of the Public Affairs Department was a book club last year hosted by Dr. Garrison, in which they read All the King’s Men, which he [Dr. Garrison] describes as a model novel on American politics. “It’s since become my favorite book, and I look back on those Saturday morning Skype calls fondly,” he explained.
He explained he owes Roanoke College for the wealth of experiences he had during his four years, including an internship in Senator Joe Manchin’s office the summer after his freshman year. He added, “my time working on the campaign proved to be the most formative experience of my college years.” The connections he formed during the internship led to his being a field organizer during Manchin’s 2018 re-election campaign, when Vester took the fall semester to continue his political experiences. He said his support from the Roanoke community helped to make that semester away as a field organizer a reality.
Vester’s favorite part of Roanoke is the support and encouragement available to students from faculty and staff. He thanked the Commons and Fintel Library staff for putting up with his “incessant ILL requests;” athletics personnel including Coach Pflugrad, Scott Allison, and the men’s soccer team, who all continued to support him after his tenure as a student-athlete ended; Dr. Peppers and Jenny Rosti, who helped him to secure his internship in Senator Manchin’s office; and Drs. Parsons and Wilson, Tommy Blair, and Jesse Griffin, who all helped to make sure his on-campus obligations could be met while working on the campaign trail his junior year.
Vester has now taken a job with Senator Manchin’s office as a field representative on his state team for a 13-county region in West Virginia as his “boots on the ground, [maintaining] relationships with local officials, business owners, etc. to keep a pulse of what’s going on in my area and see if there’s any way the Senator can be of help.” He will also staff the Senator when he is in the area, and he hopes to attend law school after a few years of working in the Senator’s office.
He gave some advice for new and current students, saying to not get so wrapped up in grades and resumes that you neglect to form meaningful and lasting relationships and memories during your college experience. Vester said to soak up every minute of your undergraduate experience-“After all, we’re lucky enough to be at Roanoke for a good time, but not a long one. Make the most of everything it has to offer.”