Senior Class President Reid Petty passes down his love of Washington University culture

Senior Class President Reid Petty (right) and the Senior Class Council present Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton with a photograph of the chancellor riding the Budweiser hitch to the site of the October 2016 presidential debate. (Photo: Mary Butkus/Washington University)

Call him cruise director for the Class of 2017.

“It is my job to make sure everyone is having an amazing four years here,”  said senior Reid Petty, who has served on class council since his arrival at  Washington University in St. Louis, including the past three years as class president. “I am passionate about unifying our class.”

During his tenure, Petty has organized  parties and picnics; concerts and Cardinals games. And, yes, one amazing cruise.

“One of my best memories is of the formal cruise we took  during senior class trip to Chicago,” Petty recalled. “There we were on the lake with the Chicago skyline, and everyone was hanging out, having a great time. It was the start of the end for us, and we all wanted to be together.”

Petty will address graduates and their guests at the 156th Commencement ceremony Friday, May 19, at Washington University in St. Louis. Here, he shares his plans for a future in advertising and what he will miss most about Washington University.

Why did you decide on a career in advertising?

Growing up, I was always plopped in front of the TV with my family. That’s how we bonded — watching “The Office,” “Lost” and probably some questionable stuff like “The Sopranos.” I loved the shows, but I also loved the ads. I would challenge myself to come up with a better ad than the one I saw on TV.  It clicked that this is what I should do with my life. Last summer, I worked at Team One, an advertising firm in Los Angeles, where I wrote copy that will appear in an upcoming Lexus ad. And after graduation, I will be working in the Chicago office of DigitasLBI in a dual project management and account management role. I also studied film at WashU and I am hoping, at some point, to merge these two loves by going into advertising for film.

You spent a summer in Copenhagen and a semester in Singapore. How did your study-abroad experiences impact your education?

Those experiences are some of the best things that ever happened to me. In Copenhagen, I took a class on the Roskilde Festival, the world’s largest nonprofit music festival. We learned about festival management and festival culture. It concluded with us spending a week at the festival where we were just immersed in Danish culture. The week shaped my understanding of what it means to travel, to get outside of your comfort zone and discover new people and places. I then chose to go to Singapore because I wanted a totally different experience, and I loved it. Being abroad is challenging, fun, sometimes lonely and always exciting.

So what words of wisdom will you be sharing with graduates?

I’m 22 years old. I don’t have that much wisdom to offer to my peers. But I have thought a lot about why this place is so special. And it comes down to the people. And sure, you could say that about a lot of universities. But I found this school very different than the other ones I visited. As a tour guide, I would talk about the campus culture here — that Washington University is super-collaborative and very friendly. And I think that imparting those words on visiting students gives them the idea that this is a very welcoming place. And they make it so. Their expectations shape reality. And so this sense of community is passed down from class to class. For us seniors, it may feel like it’s all ending, but it’s not. This community will stay with us wherever we go in life.

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