2020 graduates were back in town on May 22, 2021! 2020 graduate, Ben Vester, as well as many other students from the class of 2020, were welcomed back to campus on May 22nd to celebrate their long awaited in person commencement ceremony. While on campus, I was able to sit down with Ben Vester to look back on his time at Roanoke and life post Roanoke.
Ben Vester, a Political Science and Economics double major from Morgantown, West Virginia, had the honor of graduating as one of Roanoke’s three valedictorians this year. During his time at Roanoke, he was involved in a variety of organizations. From being recruited to play Varsity Soccer his freshman year to becoming a Student Assistant to Dr. Nik-Khah in the Business and Economics Department for most of his four years. Working for the Center for Civic Engagement, Vester was able to lead trips all across the Eastern U.S. as an alternative break leader. He also ran R-House construction during orientation as the Habitat for Humanity service coordinator.
Vester was also part of the Public Affairs Society, holding the position of secretary for two years. During his time as Secretary, he helped host Dr. Patrick Deneen, an internationally renowned scholar, which became one of his favorite memories in the Public Affairs department. Another favorite memory was taking part in book groups with Dr. Garrison. He looks at this experience as being totally outside of any classroom or college kind of experience: “a perk that you’d get only at a school like Roanoke because it was just one of our professors who in the spirit of a liberal arts education, just wanted us to read these things and have something to talk about.”
Vester’s experiences back home led to his interests in Economics. He originally came to Roanoke as an Economics major “interested in economic development back home in West Virginia. Growing up in West Virginia, you’re always aware that our state lags behind almost all others in most key metrics. Coming to college, I wanted to be a part of improving the wellbeing of West Virginians in their day-to-day life.” He credits the experience interning in DC for Senator Joe Manchin, which he got in large part though a Roanoke Alumn who worked in the Senator’s office for motivating him to get involved in politics and become a Political Science major.
When asked “What is the most valuable piece of advice that you took from the Public Affairs department,” he discusses an office hours meeting with Dr. Garrison where they were discussing hot topics of the day and “he [Dr. Garrison] made this point that stuck with me ever since. He said why should I care what your health care plan is? Your health policy is? If you’re not a good husband and a good father, right? This idea that our politics are downstream from our personal lives, that who we are as individuals and also as a nation, as a people, determines what our politics look like.” He explains that this is a piece of wisdom one wouldn’t receive at a state school and a perk of a liberal arts education. By knowing your professors you can pick up really insightful and meaningful things.
While finishing his last semester in college virtually, in Spring 2020, Vester worked for the Senator helping out with the officer’s COVID response in West Virginia. This included going to vaccination clinics, explaining information to those in the clinics and just volunteering. After this, he worked as a field representative, state staff in West Virginia, assigned 13 counties. As of February 2021, Vester was able to move into his current position as Staff Assistant for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in DC. In this position, he is nonpartisan and supports both sides and works to support the committee’s various activities.
One of the most popular questions that college students hear is, “What’s next?” or “Where do you see yourself in the next five years?” Vester responds, “I can see myself continuing to work in DC, likely on the Hill. It largely depends on what Joe Manchin decides to do in the next five years because I work for him. The alternative, I can see myself going back home, either going to law school at WVU or getting involved at some level of government or politics in the state.”
Lastly, Vester finished up by giving some advice for new and current students, saying “go to office hours and don’t drink on weekdays.”
The Public Affairs Department cannot wait to see where Ben Vester heads to next!