Political leadership is acquired at an early age, but behind every great leader is an even better story. U.S. President Barack Obama was known in high school as “Barry O’bomber,” part of a three-person basketball-obsessed group dubbed the “Rat-Ballers.” Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was said to bully and attack his classmates in every school he attended, while Sarah Palin occupied herself shooting vermin by the tender age of 10.
Looking into leaders’ roots can provide some amusing stories. With AMS elections on Tuesday and Wednesday, and to commemorate the importance of one’s inner child, Postscript takes a retrospective look into the executive candidates’ pre-political lives.
As a child, presidential candidate Safiah Chowdhury prepared herself well for her desired leadership role within the AMS. Safiah’s mother, Shamim Chowdhury, said her daughter acquired the habit of playing teacher with children older than herself.
“I used to have a daycare centre and Safiah always had to be the leader,” she said. “The kids would come in and she would distribute pencils and paper-clips to each student. Once a mother complained her child didn’t want to attend day-care anymore because Safiah was so bossy!”
Aside from playing teacher, Cowdhury’s favourite pastime was spent with her most cherished doll, Mussina—named after baseball player Mike Mussina.
“When Safiah was two and half years old, the Blue Jays playoffs were on television,” Shamim Chowdhury said. “She knew every single player’s name and she could recognize them all. She could barely speak coherently, but she had all the players’ names memorized.”
Chowdhury’s running mate, vice-president (operations) candidate Ben Hartley, also had a bright head at a young age.
“[When Ben was] about three or four, we were in Melville and he was seeing his cousins for the first time,” his father, Paul Hartley said. “Ben was very excited when his cousin Maggie took him hunting for frogs at the lake. It was all great fun until she tried to carry him home piggy-back—and dropped him on his head.” Although Hartley had a fair-sized lump on his head, he survived the fall without any major injuries.
“All of us survived, thanks to his grand dad, a doctor, who took one look at him and announced that he had a very hard head.”
Vice-president (university affairs) Chris Rudnicki has always had a larger-than-life character.
“He was a very precocious kid who was sure of his abilities,” his mother Diane Woolard said.
“When Christopher was little he was a great fan of Calvin and Hobbes—in fact, he still has two stuffed Hobbes on his bed at home. Christopher, like Calvin, knew that the world revolved around him!” Woolard said Rudnicki was an avid reader at a young age.
“An avid reader he surprised everyone at age six with his detailed knowledge of dinosaurs and a desire to be a paleontologist,” Woolard said. “He had an imaginary dinosaur friend called Littlefoot who came with him wherever he went.”
Although Chris doesn’t carry his dinosaur with him anymore, his mother said he has still retained his confidence and ambitious personality.
Then and now: Team CHR vice-president (university affairs) Chris Rudnicki, presidential
candidate Safiah Chowdhury and vice-president (operations) candidate Ben Hartley.
Presidential candidate Mitch Piper has always been up for a challenge, his parents Jeff and Wendy Piper said in an e-mail to the Journal.
“In high school [Mitch] was the school’s President while being heavily involved in athletics,” they said. “He found success as a sprinter, distance runner and badminton player, attending competitions beyond the city level.
“But as a slightly height-challenged athlete, being a towering 5’8,” Mitch always wanted the challenge of being on the basketball team.”
In Grade 12 Piper tried out and made the senior boys’ basketball team.
“His teammates enjoyed Mitch’s comment from day one of the season, that he would be happy as long as he scored more than the number on his jersey,” his parents said. “During one of the final games of a local tournament, Mitch’s team was playing the top out-of-town team. Mitch’s coach sent him out on the court to go up against one of the tallest players on the opposing team. The opposition could not understand the reaction by Mitch’s coach, teammates and friends in the stands, when Mitch scored two points in the final minutes of the game. Those were the last two and only points Mitch scored during the season. Mitch’s jersey number was one.”
Aside from his political and athletic aspirations, Piper has always been very health-conscious.
“When he was three or four years old, he was intrigued by his mother’s comments about letting your kids get ‘dirty’ to help build immunities,” Jeff Piper said.
“Mitch took her advice to heart and immediately convinced his close friend to begin eating dirt as they played in the sand pile.”
Vice-president (operations) candidate Kasmet Niyongabo’s stepmother,Vénérande Nizigiyimana, was unable to send the Journal any childhood photos, as most of them are in Burundi with his father.
In an interview conducted in French, Nizigiyimana said she and Niyongabo’s father had a feeling he would go on to study engineering.
“Kasmet was someone who was very curious,” she said. “He would sometimes take apart his toys … but he was a very good student.”
Niyongabo went to school in Paris for Grades 1 and 2, then lived in Burundi before coming to Canada for Grade 6. Nizigiyimana said she spent three years in Paris when Niyongabo was attending school in Burundi.
“He was always a very sensitive child,” she said. “When I came back he always had friends around him,” she said, adding that one of Niyongabo’s friends sometimes couldn’t afford to eat lunch, so he would make arrangements to get him food.
Once he arrived in Canada, Nizigiyimana said Niyongabo won awards in physics, science and technology. He went on to be president of his high school student council, winning an award for accumulating more than 1,000 community service hours.
Like her running mates, vice-president (university affairs) candidate Davina Finn had a big character at a very early age.
“She was known for being a drama queen,” her mother, Sharon Finn, said of Finn’s reputation as a child.
“She wasn’t quiet, ever. She wanted to be an actress when she grew up, and she was even enrolled in a drama program at a fine arts school.” Although Finn’s current interests are more suited to scientific pursuits than acting, she has retained her childhood passion for helping others, Sharon Finn said.
“At the age of seven for her birthday party she insisted that no one can bring presents,” she said. “Instead she decided that all the guests have to donate [her birthday present allowance] to charity instead.” Aside from helping others, Finn took her studies very seriously. “Once she was supposed to cook us dinner for a class project,” Sharon Finn said. “She took it extremely seriously and made this very, very serious dinner—but she got so overwhelmed and ended up hysterically crying!” Although the dinner ended up in tears, Finn’s culinary skills were nothing to cry over.
“The dinner was beautiful and it all turned out fabulous, but all the attention to detail completely overwhelmed her.”
Then and now: Team PNF presidential candidate Mitch Piper and vice-president (university affairs) candidate Davina Finn. A childhood photo wasn’t available for vice-president
(operations) candidate Kasmet Niyongabo, pictured above.
—With files from Michael Woods
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