At an Undergraduate Council meeting last year, Council President Paul A. Gusmorino ’02 stood up—in a blazer and orange shoes—to endorse an amendment he had drafted. He wanted the name of the council to be changed to “HUGS”—short for the Harvard University Government for Students.
The council almost took him seriously, until, at the end of the speech, he winked.
While some council members may have been perplexed, then-Student Affairs Committee Chair Todd E. Plants ’01 knew what Gusmorino was up to.
“He’s a goofy, silly kid,” Plants says.
But he’s also a very powerful kid—possibly the most powerful council president ever, many council members agree.
Gusmorino, the computer science concentrator with the orange shoes, is forging a legacy as one of the council’s most revered politicians ever.
At Sunday night council meetings, there’s no doubt about who’s in charge. Gusmorino, the council’s ninth president, rarely uses the gavel that is the only outward sign of his authority—but when he speaks, the room quiets.
Recently, he became the first student ever to speak at the installation of a Harvard president.
“He’s universally respected and liked,” says Adam M. Johnson ’02, a council veteran. “I’ve never heard anyone make a disparaging remark about him personally or the job he’s done as president.”
Politics and Big Signs
Gusmorino’s path to council history began his first year.
“He stood up at a meeting and said he was going to try to look into more study space for freshmen,” Plants remembers.
“Everyone was like, ‘Okay, whatever.’”
Six weeks later, however, Gusmorino announced to the council that he had secured classrooms in the Grays basement as a 24-hour study space for first-years.
“That’s when people realized he wasn’t just a goofy kid who wore bright colors,” says Plants, who later supported Gusmorino’s presidential candidacy.
Before deciding to run for the council presidency last fall, Gusmorino had held every major position on the influential Student Affairs Committee of the council.
Despite his experience, however, the presidential race was one few thought he could win. After all, he was running against Stephen N. Smith ’02, one of the campus’ most visible political figures.
But Gusmorino’s goofiness, it turned out, proved more than a match for the suave Smith. Gusmorino captured the win with record margins.
“Big signs. People love big signs,” Gusmorino reveals with a smile.
And if voters didn’t catch the signs, Gusmorino and his then-running mate, Sujean Lee ’03, also developed a campaign website with full-motion Flash animation that left the Smith team scrambling to improve their own website.
The week before the election, orange-clad Gusmorino volunteers mobbed the campus, focusing especially on the Yard.
Gusmorino recalls many sleepless night masterminding the effort, and ever since his election, he has devoted himself entirely to the council.
“He and his team worked to no end during that campaign and certainly outworked us,” Smith says. “It’s not uncommon for him to be awake at 3, 4, 5 a.m. doing productive things with his time.”
Gusmorino worked hard during the campaign, but didn’t waste much time celebrating his win. After a raucous victory party began to wind down, Gusmorino scanned the room and pulled a reporter aside. “You know what I have to do now?” he asked. “Start coding for UC Books.”
The project—a council website helping students find cheap textbooks—is one of only many student services initiatives that have marked Gusmorino’s tenure.
Hard work, many on the council say, has continued to define the Gusmorino presidency this fall as well.
“You know the old cliche, ‘You have to pick your battles’?” Plants asks. “Paul picks every one.”
From Campaign Promise To Reality
With Gusmorino at the helm, the council has experienced what has likely been its most whirlwind semester ever. After racking up so many victories, including moving the curfew for parties in House public spaces to 2 a.m., organizing Fallfest in the Quad, helping to stage a sold-out concert with the band Dispatch, building a website to help students to find the best deals on books and awarding the first-ever Marquand Prize for superior advising—some council members are wondering what is left to be done.
“Paul has accomplished everything he promised in his campaign and more,” says Student Affairs Committee Chair Rohit Chopra ’04.
Key to Gusmorino’s success is his vision, many on the council say. Early in his term, he developed an unprecedented “UC roadmap,” which provided a schedule of what he would intended to accomplish during his presidency. The roadmap, so far, seems to have the effect Gusmorino wanted—it has not only guided him as president but has inspired the council.
“In the past, the council planned things right before they happened. This year, with the roadmap, we can do longer-term planning,” Gusmorino says.
Gusmorino always refers to the roadmap during meetings, constantly reminding council members of the need to stay on track and follow through on projects as scheduled.
“It sets the tone for people to volunteer for things and follow through with them,” says Lee, now vice president. “All of the things that happened came about through Paul.”
For Gusmorino, the goals listed on the roadmap—such things as extending party hours and universal keycard access—are more than just a vision; he works many hours to ensure that they are accomplished. He is also willing to go undergo the tedium of formal processes, which has endeared him to a University administration weary of dealing with protests and demonstrations from students desiring change.
Gusmorino counts Summers and many deans as among his allies and friends. Gusmorino says he keeps administrators informed of council progress and often solicits their input and advice.
“With Paul in office its pretty hard to forget that the council exists,” says Associate Dean of the College David P. Illingworth ’71. “It takes a lot of time and a lot of effort [to achieve what Paul has] and he’s willing to devote the time to it.”
Gusmorino has served on over a dozen committees with administrators and Faculty, giving him vast experience with the workings of the College.
Watching Gusmorino interact with administrators is indistinguishable from watching him discuss bills with the council’s freshman caucus. His enthusiasm for the council is almost childlike.
“He makes it a point to get to know us people of riper years, and it’s not just schmoozing. He really does care about the issues,” Illingworth says.
But his personality and friendships with administrators only partly explain his success in working with the College to further the council’s agenda. Just as through hard work he mastered the nuances of campaigning to win the presidential election, he has also mastered administrative processes.
“He has an uncanny ability to deal with the administration on their own ground,” Smith says. “He has a very keen sense of how the administration thinks and what’s important to them. He knows where there’s leeway and where there isn’t.”
Gusmorino, however, is not sure whether he will translate his success on the undergraduate council to a career in politics when he graduates this year.
His other love, computer technology, also beckons.
“Life is like a good book,” Gusmorino says. “While you’re reading it you have no idea what is going to happen next. After you finish it, you can’t imagine having it any other way.”
And it would be hard for Gusmorino to imagine life without the council.
“This is who I am,” he says.
—Staff writer William M. Rasmussen can be reached at email@example.com.