Graduating SGA president reflects on two terms

Jay Todd Richey, 22, of Glasgow, Ky, is a senior majoring in political science and Asian religions and culture. Richey is the president of WKU’s Student Government Association and has been a part of SGA for four years. “It was the first thing I got involved with at WKU freshman year,” Richey said. “It’s the only campus organization that represents the needs of all WKU students and has the capacity to make positive change for WKU.”

Jamie Williams

Jay Todd Richey, president of the Student Government Association, arrives to his scheduled office hours several minutes late because an earlier meeting ran over time. He apologizes profusely and takes five more minutes to straighten out the rest of his daily schedule.

He talks as much as he can before he has to leave for his next class and another meeting. He is interrupted with a budget question, a call from the chief of police and emails from his professors but always apologizes before getting back on track.

Richey’s small office is situated in the back corners of Downing Student Union where it overlooks South Lawn. The bells in Guthrie Tower ring out periodically.

The walls of his office are adorned with certificates and awards — from his internship in Beijing, from an American Model United Nations conference, the Dero Downing Award for Outstanding Contribution to WKU. Surrounded by his honors and accolades, Richey still hasn’t found what he’s been searching for his whole life: something that he can unequivocally be the best at.

When Richey was a toddler, singing was his main mode of communication. During his childhood, he loved anything that was flashy and full of showmanship. His mother said by age 5 he could recite the Wizard of Oz word for word.

“My parents love to tell this story about how when I was like three or something, my dad, pretty burly guy, came home,” Richey said. “I was running around in a diaper and red high heel shoes with a witch’s hat and reciting the Wizard of Oz, because that’s what I loved to do.”

His love of showmanship led him to an interest in rock ‘n’ roll in elementary school. Richey began taking guitar lessons to follow his dreams of being a rock star. After taking lessons for a couple years, Richey continued teaching himself guitar with the help of online videos.

“I had conflicting thoughts, and I still do to this day,” Richey said. “Half of me said, ‘oh my god,  I have to do this someday.’ The other half of me said, ‘look how good they are; I’ll never be that good.’”

Despite playing lead guitar and vocals for a band in his sixth grade talent show, Richey didn’t earnestly start singing in front of people until the next year. Richey’s mother pushed him to try out for an opening in Junior Beta Club, even though he had initially skipped auditions. The club would be putting on a six-minute talent performance of Hairspray, and it needed a male lead.

“I would never — I would never willingly have auditioned because I had extremely low self-esteem,” Richey said. “I still do, to this day.”

With Richey as the lead, the club went on to win first place in state competition and second place in national competition for its performance.

“He was so good,” Richey’s mother said. “I was supposed to be video-taping him, but I couldn’t because I was crying. I was so proud of him.”

Richey decided that this was what he wanted to do, and he continued to be in the club’s musical performances until he aged out after ninth grade.

“I cried when it was over,” Richey said. “I was mortified. Seriously, I had no idea what I was going to do with my life.”

Richey was able to put off that decision after his old Junior Beta director decided to create a drama club at Barren County High School in time for his junior year. Over the next two years, Richey was selected for roles as Prince Charming in Cinderella, Link Larkin in Hairspray, and the Beast in Beauty and the Beast.

In school, Richey also played various sports such as track, golf and baseball, but none of them interested him as much as music. He devoted himself to theater and guitar, but still didn’t feel like he was good enough at anything.

“My whole life I’ve always just wanted to identify something, something that I’m the best at — anything,” Richey said. “I don’t care what it is; I just want it to be something.”

Richey found his niche in performance, but he was still hesitant to pursue it as a career. He didn’t think he was good enough to continue on a music path in college, and began searching for an alternative.

“As much as I love the stage, and as much as I love making people happy for a brief moment, it’s fleeting,” Richey said. “I wanted to do something that was more sustainable.”

Richey’s political science experience got off to a rocky start when he was rejected from the McConnell Center, a prestigious undergraduate leadership program at the University of Louisville.

“I was beyond mortified,” Richey said. “It was one of the hardest days of my life, because not only had I rejected theater in terms of pursuing it as a career, but I had said maybe political science was right for me. Then I didn’t get it, so maybe it’s not.”

After the rejection, Richey declined to go to UofL all together, not wanting a reminder of what could have been. He set his sights on WKU and, shortly after, decided to become involved in SGA.

“I distinctly remember in my essay for the Honors College, I talked about leadership on campus,” Richey said. “I said, ‘if you want a student that cares about leaving the university better than when he entered, then you should accept me.’”

Richey’s fixation on SGA started out as another quest to find an activity where he could be the best, but that changed after he joined the organization. Richey said being in SGA is radically different since he can use his position to do a lot of good for people.

After attending a few SGA meetings during his freshman year, Richey ran for senator and was elected by the student body. During his sophomore year, Richey served as Speaker of the Senate and planned to run for executive vice president for the next year. Richey hoped that if he was elected EVP, he would have a better chance of being elected president his senior year.

The day before election applications were due, Richey realized the EVP at the time would not be running for president, so he decided to run for SGA president instead.

“I was ready to take a strong stance and make very shaking decisions that I thought would be in the best interest of the student body,” Richey said.

Richey won the election and re-election the following year, making him SGA president for both his junior and senior years at WKU. This made Richey the first two-term president for WKU’s SGA since 1988  and one of only three two-term presidents since 1974.

During his time as SGA president, Richey led the creation of three new committees: Sustainability, MyCampusToo and SAVES (Standing Against Violence and Ending Self-harm). He revamped the SGA’s website, authored nine bills and resolutions, and appointed senators who would more accurately represent the demographics of the student body. He also represented the student body on the Board of Regents, University Senate and presidential search committee.

Zach Jones, who ran for EVP on the ticket opposing Richey in 2016, hopes all Richey has done to rebrand SGA will be a legacy not easily dismantled by future administrators.

“Whether you like him or not, he’s certainly made a huge impact on the university and on SGA as well,” Jones said.

Even with the title of president, Richey is still a student dealing with low self-esteem and looking for something he can be the best at. He said he always considers himself a failure no matter the circumstances.

“That’s a hard realization that no matter what you do, you’re never going to be the best at anything,” Richey said. “For some reason, I can’t cope with that.”

Richey’s friend, roommate and SGA chief of staff James Line said it’s a characteristic often shared by other politicians. He said most people don’t realize how much Richey reflects on and questions every decision he makes.

“Like any political figure, he has an ego, and one that can be easily bruised,” Line said. “He enjoys adoration from people, and on the flip-side he’s very sensitive to criticism.”

In his dorm room, Richey plays the Legend of Zelda on his new Nintendo Switch. Even though video games were a huge part of his childhood, he now only has a few hours of free time per week to play.

Above the television is a poster of George Washington, replacing the posters of Green Day that decorated his room as a kid. Richey checks his phone to find he and Line are seven votes behind in a Housing and Residence Life competition for the best decorated dorm room.

Richey spends a few minutes coming up with a Facebook post to garner support for their submission, conversing with Line to come up with a witty remark. He settles on, “Guys we are losing! Vote for the one with James Line in the dirty clothes basket where he belongs!” 

In spite of his efforts, they end up losing the competition by 28 votes.

Reporter Jamie Williams can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected]