American Studies major and rising senior William Braithwaite ran on possibly the most memorable, as well as controversial, VSG presidential ticket this year with friend and roommate Samuel Jenson. The Hustler sat down with Braithwaite to talk about his candidacy, as well as his other involvement on campus.
Vanderbilt Hustler: Why “BJ4Prez”?
Will Braithwaite: We did some preliminary brainstorming, and we knew we needed a unified message. We were gonna go with “Will and Sam, yeah we can,” which ended up being our campaign slogan technically, but it just didn’t have quite the ring to it. Also the domain name for the website was taken, and BJ4Prez was available. Also, it was very eye-catching. It’s something you can immediately make fun of, and we wanted to own it, and almost make it seem like we didn’t understand the innuendo of it. So just any reason to have the posters up everywhere we thought was funny.
VH: What were you hoping to accomplish by running for VSG president?
WB: Definitely wanted to make people laugh, and we wanted to show that it can be done by anyone. Every year, there is a write-in joke candidacy that gets a certain amount of traction, like last year the Newcomer campaign. In previous years, I know whenever people see that there’s a big election happening, someone’s like “Write me in. Get as many people as you can to write me in. It’ll be funny ‘cause this thing doesn’t matter,” and a lot of people do that. And we thought, it’s not that funny to write in a joke name, but it’s funny if that’s one of the real tickets. We looked into it, and all it took was 500 signatures and to go to like two meetings, and we were like this is what makes it really funny – for an actual, as substantive of a ticket as anyone else. It just showed that any two people, like roommates, can just be on it. We thought it was a miracle that there were only two tickets last year, and the year before that, only three, when there’s such a low barrier to entry in real life, but it makes it seem like there’s a really high barrier of entry. We just wanted to take the lolls down and say, “Anyone can do this. Anyone can make light of this, and anyone can make a change on Vanderbilt’s campus if they want to.”
VH: What would you have done if you had won?
WB: If we had won, we would’ve done it for real. A lot of people think we would’ve accepted the victory and then been like, “Alright yeah, but we don’t actually wanna do it. This was just for gags,” and given it up. But we would’ve done the job for real. It would’ve been a lot of work. Ariana Fowler sent us – all the candidates – the day of the election, “Okay just in case you win, here’s the first three months schedule of events,” and it was a Google calendar just loaded with hour to hour meetings. It got very real, very quickly. And it was like, “Yeah, we could do it. We’re Vanderbilt students. We can set our minds to this and do this job.” It would’ve been definitely different, a different leadership than any other Vanderbilt Student Government president, but I think we would’ve done a great job.
VH: What would your real platforms have been had you become president and vice president?
WB: Personally, Sam and I are big advocates of dining workers’ rights, student workers’ rights, and environmental rights. We think the environment should have more rights than it does. A lot of people don’t really respect the environment’s rights as a person, and we think the environment should be valued as a person just as much as any other student at Vanderbilt. Because at the end of the day, the environment is on the class roster, the environment is a student at Vanderbilt. So we’d probably make some policy changes with that, and just make sure everyone feels included and inclusive, and try to stop bullying and hate. We don’t like hate at all, we only like laughter and love. But just a lot of listening on our part because we’d be in roles we’d never been in before. Sam had never been in an organization, so if he had won vice president, that would have been his very first AnchorLink thing, which is hilarious. That would’ve been his first thing on AnchorLink, which is unheard of in VSG runnings.
VH: What would you say is your secret talent?
WB: My secret talent would definitely be the fact that I can – I haven’t done it in a while but I think that’s what makes a secret talent so good – is that I can, if I have a bottle of milk – and it has to be a bottle, a lot of people think it can be a carton of milk – must be a bottle – I can put it in my mouth and get almost the entire liter – I have to use metrics for this – and get it out my nose. Yeah. I figured that out in eighth grade, capitalized on it in eighth grade, and then I don’t think I ever did it again. I got the laughs from it at the lunch table and then at a talent show and then quickly stowed it away. I put the bottle in my mouth a little farther than you would normally drinking it, but not far enough for it to be, you know, that weird, and then I can just like open up floodgates that shouldn’t be open, and it comes out my nose. I did it for an eighth grade talent show and then the next night – they had like another night of the talent show – they were like, “You have to do it again,” and I was like, “Okay, but I only brought one thing of milk. Like I don’t have–” and they’re like, “We got you,” and they gave me a carton of milk, and I… can’t do it with a carton, so I had to improvise with another bottle.
VH: Who has been your favorite professor at Vanderbilt so far, and why?
WB: Michael Bess, for sure. He’s on sabbatical this year, but I keep emailing him whenever I think of him, which is about once a month, and he hates it, I’m pretty sure. But he taught World War II, and he’s just this really smart history professor at Vanderbilt, and he’s just such a good critical thinker, and he’s really engaging. And I took him first semester, and I was like a really plucky like “I’ll go to every class” – and I did go to every class first semester, you can mark me down for that. He was just a great teacher, he was the perfect amount – like humorous, engaging, asking questions, making us think, telling stories. It was a really good lecture process. Never fell asleep in class.
VH: What is at the top of your bucket list?
WB: Well I just saw Arnold Schwarzenegger this weekend. I went out to LA with my family and saw him twice. So I immediately checked that one off. So that was originally the top of my bucket list. Now I have a new top. I’m trying to think what was number two that has now moved up? I think, be on TV at some point. I’ve never been – like some people have been on the news for some reason, like a sports thing or interviewed on the street. I don’t think I’ve ever been on TV, although the security guard in Towers called me out the other day and said, “Hey I saw you on TV. You were on the news,” and I don’t know why and I can’t verify that story. So it might be checked off, but I don’t think it has been. So I’d love to be on TV. My dream be-on-TV would be to be on Ellen. Ellen DeGeneres is my favorite person. I would love to meet her. That would be top of my bucket list for sure.
VH: What do you like to do on the weekends?
WB: On the weekends, I like splitting my time between playing music with my newly-formed pop punk band “Stop Resisting,” which is with Sam, my roommate, and our campaign manager Chris. He plays drums. And we wrote one song last year for a songwriting class, called “It’s Raining at Your House Too.” That was kind of a parody pop punk song, but we walked the line really closely between being an actual band and making fun of other bands – kind of like the campaign. It’s similar. Very walking the line with that. But I like playing music with them. I play guitar. I’m the lead guitarist for it. And then Sam’s the singer. What else do I do on the weekends? A lot of just joking around with friends. Sometimes we’ll go to Alumni Lawn. We go to Percy Priest Lake sometimes when it’s warm, that’s a really good thing that we’ve discovered just this year. Never did it our other years. Usually just cling to some creative endeavor, and stick to it, and then abandon it before it’s finished.
VH: Because you mentioned that you’re in a band, do you have any musical aspirations in addition to acting?
WB: Yeah, a little bit. There was this thing that came to Vanderbilt called College Talent Tour that came last semester, and I tried out for it. It was like an American Idol for just colleges, it was a really small thing, and I went full country. I can do a country singing voice, and I pretended that was my real persona. I got in, and then they quickly figured out I was fake. But it kind of spurred an interest, it sparked something of, it’d be cool to go around to like Broadway and try to be like an Ed Sheeran type, playing guitar in bars. But also, the comedy aspect of my future aspirations just sees the ridiculousness of that and can make fun of it so much easier than like doing it genuinely. So I respect people that can do that for real. It’d be something where I’d love to have like a career in music, but you really gotta commit to that, and I don’t know if I could commit to it fully.
VH: What are you going to miss most about Vanderbilt?
WB: Probably the late nights of too many people in my room. Just somehow, my room has always been a place where a lot of people go. Also, anyone’s welcome to come to our room. It’s Towers 1 floor 6, 614. It’s just a fun place to have a Tuesday night – not a scheduled hangout but just have a lot of people filter in the room and just be talking about something crazy, a controversial thing, like if global warming could just shoot lasers and would people care more, and get some debate going. I’m gonna miss the ability to like get all my friends to just assemble like the Justice League immediately. What I’m gonna miss most about Vanderbilt is the music, actually, because that can happen at any college, but there’s a certain musical aspect that’s unique to Vanderbilt, whether it’s musical skills or taste, people just all vibe musically together really well.