Drive and Determination
Drive and determination. Those are qualities Saint John’s University student Ilan White '26 possesses in abundance.
Want proof? Just look at all he’s accomplished during his one year on campus. White, who grew up in Nassau, The Bahamas, was elected to the SJU Senate, where he served on the activities and allocation board and will take on the club auditor role for 2023-24.
He has worked in the Institutional Advancement office at SJU and was selected as a student panel speaker at a recent donor event. Beginning this fall, he will also work as a resident assistant and for the Eugene J. McCarthy Center for Public Policy and Civic Engagement.
In addition, he has been named the 2023-24 junior co-chair for the Archipelago Caribbean Association, a rarity for a sophomore.
“I really feel like I’ve been able to make an impact on campus since I’ve been here,” White said. “I’ve had a chance to establish myself and get others to see what I can bring to the table.”
His determination also was evident in the way he first got involved in politics as a high school student back home. Inspired by a speech he heard by 2009 SJU graduate Barry Griffin (now a Bahamian senator), White made it his mission to connect with the former Johnnie.
“I don’t want to sound weird, but I kind of stalked him,” White said with a smile. “I looked him up on social media and told him I wanted to get involved in politics. We talked and he helped bring me into the process.”
Indeed he did. White ended up getting involved in over eight clubs, serving as president of five. He also began a radio show that focused on bringing politics to a younger audience and featured interviews with many of the country’s top leaders on an FM station in Nassau.
Griffin, meanwhile, became a true mentor. And he was the one who first put SJU on White’s radar.
“He told me to take a look and see if I liked it,” White said. “I did and decided this was where I wanted to be.”
But he said his presence in Collegeville would not be possible without scholarships. In addition to receiving the Bahamian Gentlemen’s Club Scholarship and the International Scholarship, White also receives a Joseph Garfunkel Scholarship and a Bennett and Sharon Morgan Scholarship.
“I wouldn’t be here without them,” said White, who was raised by his mother in a single-parent home. “That’s why these scholarships are so important. They make it possible for students like me to afford a place like this.”
White’s father, with whom he was also close, passed away from pancreatic cancer 11 years ago.
“That was very hard,” he said. “I don’t think I really realized until later how deeply it affected me. At the time, I cried a lot. But I was young and I didn’t fully realize what was going on. As I got older, I became more aware of the impact that had and the toll it took on me.”
But White said he has always been surrounded by a great support network, led by his mother.
“She’s always believed in me,” he said. “She’s been my biggest supporter. She’s encouraged and inspired me.”
White said he has found a similar system in Collegeville.
“I was able to accomplish a lot in high school, but I also felt like a number,” he said. “Then I came here and I had people constantly asking me how I was doing. You could tell they were genuinely interested and that was a nice feeling.
“It sounds cliché, but the people you meet at SJU and CSB can only be found here. It’s a unique experience to be around so many genuinely nice people who truly care about your well-being.”
It’s an experience for which White, a political science major who hopes to one day pursue his own career in politics,is grateful.
“Obviously, I’d want to say thank you to everyone who helps make scholarships possible,” he said. “But I’d also ask them to keep doing it. You never know whose lives you’re impacting. So many students who have benefitted from scholarships here have gone on to great things.
“Who knows,” he added with a smile. “They might be helping the next prime minister of the Bahamas.”