By Katherine Berman ‘22
Washington and Lee University’s 27th Mock Convention is about more than just predicting the correct Democratic nominee. It is about getting it right in every facet, every step of the way.
For the first time in Mock Con history, this includes sustainability. Kaitlyn Fitzsimmons ‘20 is the organization’s first Sustainability Chair. She is responsible for keeping the environment at the forefront of student leaders’ minds as they organize events for the Mock Con 2020 cycle.
“People in every department [are] forced to think about sustainability just by the existence of this new position,” said Fitzsimmons. “They’ll just come up to me and be really proud of what they’re doing like getting reused furniture… It’s great to see people in Mock Con celebrating these small acts of sustainability in their daily operations.”
Kylie Piotte ’21, Director of Operations, envisioned this role after she assumed her position.
“We especially wanted this cycle to be sustainable from a financial and environmental standpoint,” said Piotte. “We have so many events that we could just make better for the environment.”
Piotte oversees a number of chairs from logistics to events to memorabilia. The Operations department is in charge of all the non-political aspects of Mock Con and works to create a professional environment with the qualities of a true national convention.
As W&L’s largest student-run organization, Mock Con’s events involve about 95 percent of the student body.
“There are so many students that I know that are passionately interested in sustainability and in the environment, so it only makes sense to get them involved in some way or another,” said Fitzsimmons.
On May 5, Mock Con sponsored a Kentucky Derby-themed party at the Pole Houses for students. The party featured sustainably-sourced mint for virgin mint juleps and reusable plastic cups that students were less likely to throw away than traditional solo cups.
“Our thought was: we’re making mint juleps-- let’s make sure we’re not buying all this mint and plastic; let’s grow it in our campus garden,” said Piotte. “It’s so easy to say you’re thinking about the community, but it’s really all about bringing the community in.”
The mint for the mint juleps was grown locally and then picked up by Fitzsimmons on foot to significantly reduce food mileage. A food mile is a unit of measurement for every mile of fuel used to transport a food item from producer to consumer.
“We were also super conscious of using plastic cups that were just going to be thrown away, so instead, everything we made was reusable,” said Piotte.
In Lexington, recycling can prove difficult due to area-specific laws and requirements. Fitzsimmons decided to solve this issue for Mock Con events by ordering a special box from TerraCycle. A TerraCycle “Zero Waste Box” provides a solution for waste that cannot be recycled through regular municipal recycling.
Additionally, the Mock Con team has participated in environmentally-based service events to get involved in the greater community and make a physical impact. The team recently picked up trash by the Lexington Food Lion as part of a highway clean-up.
“Moving forward, we have the Presidential Gala in November and Convention Weekend with the parade and the prediction itself in February, so at this point, we’re working on how we can make this gala as sustainable and environmentally friendly and bring the community together in the best way possible for this event,” said Piotte.
One of the ways Piotte and Fitzsimmons are hoping to make the gala more sustainable is through a dress drive. Their hope is to combat one of the most polluting industries in the world, fashion, which is becoming even worse for the environment as mass production and online shopping continue to dominate.
“Girls can get a new dress but don’t have to bear the financial and environmental burden of buying a brand-new dress,” said Fitzsimmons.
They also hope that this initiative will make the gala more accessible to students worried about purchasing a new dress in addition to a gala ticket. Borrowing dresses, showing receipts of dresses purchased from second-hand places like Rent the Runway to get a discounted ticket*, and the dress drive are some of Fitzsimmons’ ideas to make the event more accessible and sustainable. She hopes to do something similar with tuxedos.
“This can’t happen at other schools,” she said. “We have such a community of trust that you can lend your dress out and you can get it back.”
“All of these things have a great educational quality,” Piotte added. “We want to get people thinking. I think it’s really important to use the resources we have, and our own community is the easiest one to utilize.”
But this movement goes beyond outfits. The theme of the upcoming Presidential Gala is going to be centered around sustainability.
“We’re more aware and conscious of sustainability this time around,” said Piotte. “Mock Con has grown to such a level now where you can’t ignore it. We have so many students involved, and it’s such [an] event to put on. It would be irresponsible not to be thinking long-term.”