Mr. Whitman Gives Semilla Nueva Leg Up

Daniel Kim

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It’s that time again: Eight senior men are ready to hit the Cordiner stage at 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 9 for this year’s Mr. Whitman pageant, to raise money and awareness for Whitman-alum-founded nonprofit Semilla Nueva.

This year’s Mr. Whitman contestants – Matt Raymond, Hari Raghavan, Jack Lazar, Al-Rahim Merali, Adam Brayton, Nik Hagen, Justin Weeks, and Jonas Myers (all ’13).  Photos contributed by Meghan Browne.

Kappa Kappa Gamma has been organizing the Mr. Whitman fundraiser for the past eight years. The fundraiser is a male beauty pageant in which participants compete for the title of Mr. Whitman by trying to raise the most money for a selected charity, as well as by performing in a talent portion.

The nonprofit organization that receives the funds raised by Mr. Whitman changes from year to year. This year, Mr. Whitman will be funding Semilla Nueva, a nonprofit organization that was founded by Whitman alumnus Curt Bowen ’09.

“Semilla Nueva has a really strong connection with [Whitman Direct Action] on campus. Semilla Nueva and WDA have a partnership and many members have traveled down to Guatemala and worked with Semilla Nueva. Many of the members of WDA at Whitman filled out an application, and so we decided on Semilla Nueva,” said junior Sara Graham, Kappa’s philanthropy chair.

Semilla Nueva helps farmers in Guatemala by introducing environmentally sustainable farming practices into their communities. This allows the farmers to practice efficient farming practices on their own, giving them the tools to learn how to adapt to a higher yield.

In order for an organization to be considered for fundraising through this event, students must submit application forms nominating the organization.

“The recipient of the funds changes every year and we choose the recipient by contacting the students … People can submit an application form if they have a particular nonprofit that is close to them or [to which they] have a connection,” said Graham.

Of the eight senior men running for Mr. Whitman, one is chosen from each of the four fraternities on campus, and four are independent men. Each of the men go about fundraising as much money as they can on their own, coming up with their own distinctive ways.

“It’s up to the fraternities to choose their candidates. In Beta, [the] people who volunteered … [and] had great stage recognition were nominated for the Beta representative,” said senior Jonas Myers, Beta Theta Pi’s candidate for Mr. Whitman.

In addition to the candidates’ individual fundraising before the date of the show, they participate in a swimwear, formalwear and talent component. On the day of the show, a winner is announced and the money raised through this event is presented to the organization.

This year’s contestants with Sara Graham ’14, the event’s organizer.

“They work to raise money before the actual show, so they’re holding concerts, writing letters, putting on events. They do a lot of things during Parents’ Weekend,” said Graham.

Fundraising accounts for 60 percent of the candidate’s score, the rest being determined by their performance in the pageant.

Two years ago, Mr. Whitman was able to gather $50,000 in funds. It’s since grown significantly, and this year contestants hope to earn as much money as they can to help out the community.

“I am nervous about the show and I’m trying keep what I’m doing on the down low. But I do know what I’m doing, and I’m pretty excited. I have been practicing and the whole process of figuring out what I’m going to do has been fun. It’s also nice that the winner of the competition is not determined by who does the best at the show, so that takes a little stress off,” said senior Jack Lazar, an independent candidate.

Kappa receives 5 percent of the funds raised through the Mr. Whitman fundraiser and donates the money to the Kappa foundation, which provides emergency assistance to Kappa-related causes. This year some of the fund will go toward emergency assistance for Kappas whose homes have been damaged or lost in the Colorado wildfires. Some of that money will also go towards the Girls Academy Program, one of Kappa’s sponsored organizations.

“We really wanted to make sure that the 5 percent donation within the Kappa Foundation was going to something that we wanted [it] to go to,” said Graham. “We feel really strongly about this Girls Academy Program and we really want to bring it to Walla Walla to pick one of the local schools here and have it for them. It’s a weekend-long event and [they] do workshops on confidence and practical skills.”

Mr. Whitman is growing every year, encouraging students to be a part of a big fundraising event on campus that makes differences around the world.

“It has made me begin to think [of] Mr. Whitman as a collaborative fundraiser, and we tried to downplay the competitive aspect. We focused on aiding each other and raising as much [money] as we could. I was worried at the beginning that this would be a big competition, but it has not been that way,” said Lazar.

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