The Political Life of Riley

Westmont’s new student body president contemplates a career in law and possibly politicsMg75D1X_6468

Riley Svikhart ’15 has a passion for politics. While enrolled at Folsom Lake College, he became enthralled with the 2012 presidential election. His dreams of becoming a professional golfer, however, were not materializing.

“My game had plateaued,” he says. “I started to see the writing on the wall and was considering alternative careers.” He spent much of the summer listening to political talk shows on the radio, watching the primaries and following the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney. “This was the genesis of a new-found passion for public service,” he says. “The economy at that time was difficult to ignore. I was living with my grandparents, and the family construction business in Sacramento was struggling financially. Meanwhile, there was a compelling war of ideas taking place on the national stage.”

Then Riley’s mother, Tracy Carver ’90, told him she was visiting Westmont and the college was accepting applications from transfer students. He took her suggestion, spending nearly four hours completing the essays.

“In two weeks, I received a substantial package of grants and scholarships that made it affordable for our family,” he says. Even though Riley hadn’t visited Westmont since he was a child, he immediately committed. “It far exceeded my expectations,” he says. “I think that’s the impact that Westmont has on anybody who comes here.”

Riley, who majors in economics and business, made a splash quickly at Westmont. His sophomore year, he won the debate competition of the annual Tournament of Expressions. “That was my first major public-speaking experience, advocating to 100 people in Hieronymus Lounge,” he says. “It helped grow my confidence and showed I was on the right path.”

The following year, he was involved in a month-long campaign for the Westmont College Student Association (WCSA) presidency. “Westmont is a special school, attracting students who are more interested in changing the world for the better rather than just living a nice life,” he says. “Westmont provides a liberal arts education focused on God with global vision that helps them change the world. By improving Westmont, I think we are humbly improving the world. I was really fired up to play a role in that.”

This year’s student government is tasked with fulfilling the vision that David Dry ’14 and last year’s WCSA had when they rewrote the constitution, improving student representation on campus. “It’s going to be a challenge bringing that to fruition, establishing important precedents,” he says. “WCSA has been around for four or five decades, so this is a new frontier. We hope it will be here for generations to come.”

Riley is involved with three influential campus committees and regularly meets with President Gayle D. Beebe. He represented Westmont on a conference call with the White House and about 15 other California student body presidents, brainstorming and coordinating policy initiatives on college affordability and campus sexual assault prevention.

Riley will begin applying to law schools this fall in hopes of attending in 2015. He remains guarded, however, when asked about a future in politics. “I think if you do a good job with your current obligations, then other opportunities will present themselves in God’s time down the road,” he says. “There’s a need for new leadership in Washington, folks who will care more about the next generation of Americans than their next election. Republicansand Democrats are just as guilty. It’s really our generation, the students who are coming in as the class of 2018, who will bear the brunt of the current irresponsibility. There needs to be more accountability in Washington, where it’s a perennial game of kick the can.”

Riley admits that if the right opportunities presented themselves and he felt God was calling him, he would consider running for public office.

“A Westmont education doesn’t end after three or four years, but stays with you forever,” he says. “Westmont is special because it gives students a keen understanding that they are expected to make a lasting impact in their chosen field in return for the extraordinary gift of such an exceptional and life-changing education.”

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