The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

June 23, 2013

Clements student elected Beta leader

By Kim West

— Limestone County has established a dynasty of sorts when it comes to electing Alabama Beta Club officers.

Clements rising senior Alec Van Wagnen became the second straight local student to be chosen as the club’s state president after running against three other candidates during the 73rd annual state convention held in April at the Birmingham-Jefferson Complex.

Van Wagnen, 18, succeeded Athens Bible School’s Ben Gilbert, who graduated in May and served as the 2012-13 state president for Beta Club, which is an honor student organization that emphasizes community service.

Since 1999, a Clements student has been selected for a state office at the junior or senior level in every calendar year except 2010 and 2011, including seven elected as state president. Mark White also held the state office from 1976-77.

Van Wagnen’s wagon

Van Wagnen used a catchy slogan, campaign help from other clubs and a Civil War prop to become the eighth student from his school to nab the state Beta presidency.

“The first thing we came up with was the campaign slogan — ‘Jump on the bandwagon, vote for Van Wagnen,’ and it’s funny how all the ideas sprang from that. In the campaign skit, we used my grandfather’s wagon, which is an old replica from the Civil War,” Van Wagnen said. “After we wheeled that big wagon on-stage for the skit, the main talking point backstage was questions about how we got it down there. Ben’s dad used a truck from his Jeep dealership to haul it down to Birmingham for us.

“The cool thing about the campaign was that other schools in Limestone County helped us campaign since there were only about 30 of us from our school.”

More than 2,000 students attended the state convention, and Van Wagnen said he tried to meet as many of them as possible while campaigning. He also sought advice from school Beta sponsor Mitzi Gilbert and school Beta president Hollie Evans, who ran for state secretary the previous year.

Van Wagnen said he focused on servant leadership during his 2-minute on-stage interview question.

“My answer was service, and I referenced the Bible in a sense because leadership is serving others. When you’re helping others to do the best they can, that exemplifies leadership by service,” he said.

Van Wagnen, who plays trumpet in the Clements band and a mix of shortstop, third base and pitcher for the Colts’ baseball team, said while he does not have political ambitions, he closely follows current events and policy.

“I’ve always had an interest in politics, meeting people and traveling. My parents have talked to me about the importance of voting … they have inspired me to take a little more initiative and think about things going on in the world, and to be a decision-maker,” said Van Wagnen on Friday in between classes for an ongoing leadership course at Samford University in Birmingham. “I think people would be surprised how being an informed voter and talking to other people about your ideas can affect policy and how decisions are made.”

Beta background

Nationwide, more than six million students have participated in Beta Club, which is divided into a junior club for grades 5-9 and a senior club for grades 9-12. The club currently has more than 420,000 active members and 8,000 clubs worldwide. Notable Beta alumni include country music singer Trisha Yearwood and TV journalist Diane Sawyer.