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David Rhode is on a roll as student president of WCU

David Rhode, HHS class of 2016, is the new student body president of Western Carolina University. [CONTRIBUTED PHOTO]   David Rhode, HHS class of 2016, is the new student body president of Western Carolina University. [CONTRIBUTED PHOTO]

Answering a call on his cell phone from his hometown newspaper editor, David Rhode declared that “my head’s spinning 3,000 miles an hour.”

Two weeks after he was elected student body president of Western Carolina University, the 2016 graduate of Hendersonville High School was still learning of the job’s many duties.
“Things are moving so quickly, it’s absolutely crazy right now,” he said. “I’m trying to assemble an executive cabinet to help out with the presidential duties.” He was hearing from campus organizations, getting peppered with requests for grants from a fund for student activities and preparing for training as a student member of the college Board of Trustees.
“I’m getting briefed on the chancellor search so that’s going to be exciting,” he added.
Running against three others, Rhode campaigned on a platform that tapped into his fellow students’ anxiety whether services are keeping up with campus growth.
“Every semester since I came to Western, which was January of 217, we’ve had the largest freshman class again and again and again and with that growth comes growing pains,” he said. “Campus housing and campus dining have become strained. It’s become a real issue.”
As a student at Hendersonville High School, Rhode was the most consistent and passionate voice advocating for renovating the historic classroom building as part of the campus construction project, a position that ultimately prevailed against long odds.
“I recall very vividly telling (School Board Chair) Amy Holt over the phone I don’t think this process has been done, I don’t think the last word has been said — and that was a few months before we found out there was cost overruns” that led to the design that saved the Stillwell building as part of HHS.
Rhode was used to stubbornness against long odds. He was 0-7 in student government campaigns until he won election as vice president of the HHS senior class in 2015. He extended his win streak to two with his election as WCU student president.
Hendersonville Councilman Jerry Smith, a civics and history teacher at HHS, arranged to appoint Rhode to the city Environmental Sustainability Board at age 15. Rhode later went on to represent Henderson County at a meeting of the N.C. Association of County Commissioners, where he was selected to speak to 200 other youth delegates.
“Being from Hendersonville, I have to give credit where credit is due,” he said. “I don’t think I’d be where I am if it wasn’t for the education of Henderson County schools and Hendersonville High School. I think they certainly set me up for success. Ultimately, I have to thank God in a sense for finding favor for me.”
This is not the end of the road. The young politician, a Republican, turns 21 on June 28.
“Ironically, that’ll give me the green light to run for state House or county commissioner,” he said.