Matthew Vorderstrasse, Riverside campus’s Student Body President, reflects on his time serving the college – and looks towards his promising career in Oregon politics.
By Elijah Sullivan
Matthew Vorderstrasse appears unassumingly in the doorway on Thursday evening in early June. He’s ready for his interview – his last – but he wants to smoke. He navigates to the gazebo to get away from the drizzling rain, lights a cigarette and transitions seamlessly from chitchat to answering questions.
He looks relaxed, maybe even a little tanned. The student government just certified the election results, he says, but won’t talk about who will be filling the appointed positions. “I know who they are, but I don’t know if I’m supposed to,” he jokes. He was locked out of his office briefly while the details of the appointees were settled.
“I was kicked out of my own office!” he exclaims. Instead of being offended, Vorderstrasse just laughs. These days he’s mostly concerned with helping his successor, Katilyn Eccleston, make the transition smoothly. She will be a very different president, he thinks, but a good one. He also likes the president elected at Redwood, who he described as quiet, reserved, and funny.
“Student government opened up quite a few doors for me,” Vorderstrasse recalls. “It’s been a headache, too.”
And what was his greatest accomplishment?
“Admin quite literally hated us. When I first started, I was flying blind. My first order of business was to mend relationships.”
The administrators at Rogue Community College can be a tough crowd. Not just anyone can muster that kind of support. “At first there was some opposition from the admin,” he admits, “but they never really said no. They would tear the s— out of my ideas, but they wouldn’t say ‘no,’ just tell me to redo it.”
Vorderstrasse takes a moment to make small talk with a student who bums a cigarette and asks for directions to the Post Office. As they interact, it’s impossible to tell if they know each other. Every student is a friend to Matt Vorderstrasse.
His last day in office will be the Friday before the commencement ceremony – although, he says, technically he’s still president until he gives his speech. There he will make his final report, introduce Eccleston, and bow out. Right now, his staff is busy writing their transitional letters, which will contain advice and encouragement to their heirs and share memories.
“Do you know much about how The Byline started?” he asks. I know a little bit: it’s a couple of decades old, used to just be called “The Newspaper,” then The Oracle and the The Courier before it finally came to be known as The Byline. “It started on Redwood campus. Riverside didn’t get a lot of coverage, and they complained a lot. They finally persuaded them to move it over here, and now Redwood doesn’t get much attention. The campus I really feel sorry for is Table Rock. They are like the forgotten stepchild.”
The obvious solution, Vorderstrasse continued, would be offering journalism on both campuses, and have two papers or a joint paper. Makes sense, but RCC just lost another $600,000 in funding and expanding the student newspaper probably isn’t a priority for anyone.
The real worry, he says, is whether or not half the faculty will quit because of their workload. “Blame Measure 5,” Vorderstrasse says. “Back in 1991. They rearranged everything, which resulted in these tuition increases.” Considering the scope of recent budget cuts, however, Vorderstrasse thinks RCC is doing well. “We have a good, fiscally-conservative president who makes good decisions,” he said, in reference to RCC’s President, Dr. Peter Angstadt.
Despite the fact that commencement is around the corner, Vorderstrasse has not started writing a speech. He probably won’t, he says, preferring to make it up as he goes along. “It’s easier to just say what’s on my mind, speaking from the heart.” He’s an accomplished writer, however, and when he does write he reworks his thoughts over and over again.
Around campus, Vorderstrasse has a reputation for working exceptionally hard. While he only held a student worker his first year, his financial situation required him to take an off-campus job, working grueling night shifts at a rehab center. His schedule, recently, consisted of being a full-time student during the day, working the information counter in the G Lobby, then leaving for his night job where he would get home early in the morning. After a quick nap, he would leave to do it all over again.
Next, Vorderstrasse will pursue a Bachelor’s Degree is Political Science from Southern Oregon University, after which he will try to get into law school. Matt Moreali, the student government’s adviser at Riverside, has been accepted to a law program and is departing, as well. Eventually, Vorderstrasse wants to return to politics. “In order to effect change, you have to be a policy-maker,” he says.
To that end, he applied for a position with the Oregon Student Assistance Commission, which would put him in a position to help community college students all over the state. Being president of Riverside campus allowed him many opportunities to rub elbows with Oregon’s legislators to advocate for students.
“I saw an opportunity and I took it,” he said. While OSAC ended up awarding their seat to another applicant, they remembered Vorderstrasse’s interview and recommended him for a different position. “I’m still not sure what I’ll be doing,” he admits with a laugh, “but I’ll be in a position to help the education system as a whole.”
His cellphone goes off. Vorderstrasse has been summoned by his wife, Marchand, who also works in student government as Director of Activities. If there is one thing the Vorderstrasse administration will be remembered for, it will be the family they became during his unprecedented double term.
RCC’s commencement ceremony will take place June 12 at 6 PM at the Marjorie Holzgang Concert Bowl at the Redwood campus in Grants Pass.
Photos by Elijah Sullivan.