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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


People of UW: Senior Class President discusses representing 2024 graduates

Stories of students: Read about students making a difference on campus
Photo courtesy of Gracie Nelson.
Gracie Nelson People of UW graphic.

Editor’s note: People of UW is a human interest series produced by Badger Herald staff members. The series aims to highlight a student or student group at the University of Wisconsin making an impact on the campus community. These Q&As are edited for length and clarity.

Tell us about yourself. 

My name is Gracie Nelson. I use she/her pronouns. I’m from Seattle, Washington, and I’m a senior majoring in political science and gender and women’s studies. 


What is your role in the Senior Class Office and what are your responsibilities? 

I’m the senior class president. The Senior Class Office as a whole has seven members, so myself and my vice president, and then five directors. Each will have different roles ranging from philanthropy to engagement and things like that. Our job as senior class officers … is to accomplish these main three things which is one, to create senior inspired events to celebrate the class; two, to plan winter and spring commencement ceremonies; and then three, to be a liaison between the administration and the student body. So speaking personally, I attend a lot of meetings with upper-level administration, talk with reporters and that kind of thing as well. 

What is your favorite part about being Senior Class President?

I’ve had a lot of roles on campus and anytime you’re in leadership with anything I think you see more of the problems that the institutions have. I’ve worked with [Associated Students of Madison] or I’ve been the chair of the Dean of Students Advisory Board and those positions are great, but they definitely can have kind of a critical lens of the institution — which should be there — but it can be a little fatiguing and exhausting to always be so critical. What’s fun about this position is my job is to celebrate the incredible and diverse journeys that our class has. So I find 99% of my job is really fun and feels very positive, which I enjoy. 

What inspired you to take on this role?

So you run for senior class president in March the year before. I had thought about the idea a little bit … going into my junior year the summer beforehand. I think what inspired it was I genuinely wanted to celebrate our class. I think COVID taking away high school graduation — people remember that, but they forget that we lost our whole freshman year of college and so we didn’t have any events all together, or we’ve never seen our class all together in one place like you do for the W Project. I really wanted the opportunity to give back to this class that has already lost out on so much.

What does the Senior Class Office do?

We created the senior barbecue, which had more than 1,000 people come at the beginning of the year. That and winter commencement, these are the big events. When I say these out loud, people are like, ‘oh you’ve done four things,’ but I literally work 20 to 30 hours a week on this role. I guess there’s been tangible things you can see — we did the barbecue, winter commencement, we did Abe photos for all graduates who want photos. We also put together some professional photos. We had prom, which was probably our most fun event I would say. We had over 900 people show up for the prom. It was super fun and kind of giving back those reclaimed experiences like I was talking about. We do the first-generation graduation ceremony, so we’re going to have over 650 people attend as we walk first-generation students across a stage and celebrate them with their families. We also coordinate and pick the senior class gift, so any donations go to that.

What were some of the goals you and the Senior Class Office set for this year and did you accomplish them?

I think that it was one to have a diverse set of voices reflecting our senior class, which I definitely think has been accomplished. A lot of our role is being in these meetings with upper level administration advocating for student needs and just from our office alone, I am the only white student on Senior Class Office which is the first in history. We have two first-generation students, two of us are queer. I know that I’m the first LGBTQ woman in this role. Megan and I are the fifth woman duo ever. And I realize those can just be numbers strung together, but I really think that representation matters. Also, six out of the seven of us identify as women. And so I just think that kind of stuff has really allowed the platform that we have to be this very diverse set of voices in any space that we enter.

On top of that, this kind of celebratory piece has been the focus of our year. Prom was so much fun and I think one of the reasons it was so fun is that usually students stay in their little silos. So if you’re having a Sex Out Loud event, only the kids in Sex Out Loud come, or if you’re having a football game you go to different tailgates with your friends. The prom was so fun because it was the most random people in the best way. I saw people from math class and also people I’ve never seen before. You just saw every single kind of representation of the senior class which I don’t ever think happens in our institution. I think we’ve done a really good job of merging together different groups which — especially senior year  — never happens. With this upcoming event for the first-generation celebration you’re seeing that too — I’ve been doing a lot of stuff for it and on the response forms you have people who are first generation from Wisconsin to somewhere abroad. And every major represented, every type of person represented. So I think we’ve done a really good job on touching on the diverse stories that make our class and bringing them together even more.

What is the best memory you have of working with the Senior Class Office?

For the barbecue that we put on, it might have been the first day of classes or something along that, we just totally underestimated how many people would come. There had never been an event like that before. Last year the Senior Class Office hosted a senior bash and only 300 students came. So when I ordered 700 T-shirts I thought I was overdoing it and we were out of T-shirts in the first 35 minutes. It was just so much fun. We were in full panic mode handing out these T-shirts and getting people their hot dogs and their bag of chips and so forth. But it was so much fun. It was a great kickoff for our year together too. We really bonded in that first moment. Just the sheer terror of seeing this line that was never ending.

How can students get involved with the Senior Class Office?

For president and vice president you run the March of your junior year, and then applications go out that April for the officer positions. Applications are now closed, but for any sophomores keep your eye out for that. And I could not recommend it enough. I think it has truly been the best job I’ve had in my four years here. Depending on what director role you’re in your hours can really vary. I definitely do — maybe not the most work, but the most work consistently. Like for the first generation celebration, I’m not leading that, so I know there’s been more done that I haven’t done. But you can really be in a position that’s only probably five hours a week and then up to like 40. It’s been awesome. If you want to get involved in other ways, the Senior Class Office is always looking to collaborate with different orgs, so we have an email that you can email us at. We also have a website that is through the Office of Student Affairs that you can check out what we’re doing and how to get involved.

What are your plans following graduation?

I applied to law school this last semester. I’m going to defer my enrollment no matter where I go. I’ll be in Chicago next year just taking a break. I’m feeling a little bit of burnout. I love this job but it’s taken everything from me, same as applying to law school. So I’m taking a year off and I’ll be starting in the fall of 2025.

Anything final words or thanks?

I’ll shout out again my amazing officers that I’ve done work this year with. I do think that the amount of things that we’ve done have been very unprecedented for the Senior Class Office. Usually they don’t do very much. And so I’m super proud of all of them. I couldn’t have done it without them. And I hope this kind of starts the path of the Senior Class Office has limitless potential. And so I hope that future class officers run with this role as well because I didn’t think prom was going to happen, I had no faith. Actually on the day I was like, ‘oh my God, I cannot believe we made this happen.’ I think that’s a testament to putting yourself out there. And I do think that people kind of underestimate the student involvement that will come from these events. I think every event that we’ve held shows that students are really curious and eager to get involved and break their community lines. It’s been super fun working toward those goals.

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