The President Also Plays the Trombone
Issue   |   Fri, 05/23/2014 - 11:35
Photo courtesy of George Tepe '14
After graduation, Tepe will attend Columbia Law School, where he plans to study financial regulatory law.

Student body president, economics thesis writer and soon-to-be graduate student at Columbia Law School … let me be honest: I was rather intimidated prior to interviewing George Tepe. But his animated character and charm quickly dissolved my preemptive anxiety, and Tepe and I flitted from one topic to another, conversing easily. He was enthusiastic about everything we discussed, from his political career to the Federal Reserve, and I am now anxious, quite differently than before, that I won’t be able to perfectly capture his effervescence.

A True “AAS Nerd”

As a first-year, Tepe wanted to continue his participation in student government, which he enjoyed throughout high school. Since being elected as a first-year senator, he has served as the Judiciary Council chair, Association of Amherst Students vice president and subsequently AAS president.

“I’ve remained involved in AAS for four years because I think it’s fun,” Tepe said. “I love learning about how bureaucracy and institutions work. It has also given me the incredible opportunity to meet and serve students, administrators and faculty members.”

Katarina Cruz ’17, an AAS senator, lauded Tepe’s ability to lead other senator.

“Tepe encourages senators, especially the new ones, to take action and pursue the issues we want to tackle,” Cruz said. “He was always willing to discuss the feasibility of my ideas and helped me get in contact with the right people.”

This year’s AAS Vice President Noah Gordon ’14 also praised Tepe’s devotion to the job.

“While some people use leadership positions to pad their resumes or climb social ladders, it’s become clearer and clearer to me through the years that George is genuinely a caring individual,” Gordon said. “When he commits himself to a project, he will always see it through to completion — he’s one of the most competent and tenacious people I’ve met at this college.”
Out of everything the AAS has achieved over the past four years, Tepe talks most enthusiastically about the creation of the PEP station, located by Grosvenor House on Route 9. It charges electronic cars and mainly serves as the charging station for ACEMS vehicles on campus.

“Cars were always near and dear to my heart,” said Tepe, a Detroit native.

During his sophomore year, Tepe worked tirelessly along with his then-roommate Ian Hatch ’14 in order to initiate an environmentally conscious and sustainable method of transportation at Amherst. The duo’s project sparked from their shared interest in automobiles and eventually transformed into a yearlong collaboration that received $20,000 from the administration and another $40,000 from the senate.

“The most rewarding part is seeing the parking spaces in front of the station,” Tepe said. “That was the whole purpose — by building the infrastructure, we hoped that it starts a trend of electric cars and that Amherst could be a leader in this green technology.”

While working for AAS requires many hours in and out of meetings, Tepe said he finds every aspect of it enjoyable. His passion for student government exceeded any expectation when Tepe spent one spring break at home, rewriting the entire AAS committee structure from scratch, all for fun.

He wrote by-law amendments and the jurisprudence of committee structure during a week intended for leisure. When he told me this and caught a glimpse of incredulity on my face, Tepe laughed and exclaimed he really is an “AAS nerd.”

The Last Trombonist of Amherst

Tepe’s passion is by no means limited to serving on the student government. In fourth grade, he began his lifelong journey with trombone. Throughout high school, he played for the Detroit Youth Symphony Orchestra, which required demanding rehearsals every Saturday. Tepe said that Detroit youth orchestra opened his eyes to “real” music. He knew that at Amherst, he would choose orchestra over any other musical ensemble group because of his profound love for classical music, which naturally led to a four-year commitment to the Amherst College orchestra.

“My freshman year was really exciting as there were two other trombonists from Amherst,” Tepe said. But no other trombone players have come along since I was a freshman. None!”

Tepe added that every time he leads tour groups, he wants to personally recruit trombone players for the orchestra.

Though he does not have a fixed plan to continue playing the musical instrument after graduation, he hopes that someday he can pick it back up. Tepe’s involvement in the music world has motivated him to appreciate classical music, which he would have never interacted with had it not been for his orchestral experience. Now, he said his ears perk up whenever he hears familiar tunes that he has played before.

Don’t Mention the Fed

Tepe’s passion for economics — particularly the central banking system and the Federal Reserve Board — can be summed up in this quote: “I can talk about the economy for this entire interview, but I really shouldn’t. But I could.”

Tepe’s interest in banking and monetary policies is rooted in Professor Geoffrey Woglom’s class, “Money and Economic Activity,” which he took his first year. After working as a TA for the class the following years, he took a Special Topics course called Federal Reserve Challenge, again taught by Woglom.

Woglom said that Tepe is one of his all-time favorite students, in large part due to Tepe’s persistent enthusiasm.

“I love studying economics, and working with a student who shares your passion is extraordinarily rewarding,” Woglom said.

Because he couldn’t get enough of monetary policies and central banking, the economics major decided to write an honors thesis, conducting in-depth research about the impact of Federal Reserve Press Conferences on the market. Despite the tedious nature of researching, Tepe finds that writing a thesis was a valuable experience — he said he enjoyed being able to “do” economics.

“I think economics has been extra fascinating for me because of when I came into it,” Tepe said. “In central banking, there are conventional and unconventional monetary policies. Because I came into economics in 2010, I have never known economics in conventional times. Recession, financial crisis … it was as if everything I learned was on the news. For me, the unconventional has become the ‘conventional’ thing.”

Tepe plans to continue pursuing his passion in economics at Columbia Law School next year, where he hopes to study financial regulatory law.

Outside of Meetings and Classrooms

Regrettably, I have only had the pleasure of conversing with Tepe once, with only three weeks to go until his graduation. But our hour-long conversation, as well as the stories from his friends and colleagues, was testament enough to Tepe’s good-humored nature and charming character.

Outside of the professional setting of AAS, Gordon has forged a meaningful friendship with Tepe during their time together at Amherst.

“When you talk to him, he’s always engaged 100 percent in what you are saying,” Gordon said. “George is extremely friendly and honest. He doesn’t abide by the rule of ‘Amherst Awkward’ so often complained about around here.”

Gordon also praised Tepe for his decision to resign from his fraternity in December of last year. During the AAS presidential election, his membership in Chi Psi provoked debates about the extent of his fraternity brothers’ involvement in his campaign as well as his ability to accurately represent the student body.

However, this year, when one of the fraternity’s members was found accountable for sexual assault but was housed in Chi Psi’s off-campus location, Tepe withdrew his fraternity membership.

“I can’t emphasize enough that the resignation wasn’t political,” Gordon said. “George had very little to gain at this point, and in conversations I had with him, I could tell that it was a personal decision. I’ve always admired his choice to sacrifice so much for what he thought was right.”

“I do not regret leaving,” Tepe said. “And based on my experience of the past few months, I can attest that fraternities at Amherst continue to harm individuals on this campus, myself included.”

With the end of his Amherst years just around the corner, Tepe divulged what he called a “dirty little secret.”
“I almost went to Williams,” he said.

Tepe said one of the reasons he chose to attend Amherst over the infamous rival school was to find out why everyone was so happy here. He said he believes he has discovered the source of the happiness, or at least the source of his own.

“Everyone cares about the college,” Tepe said. “I have been especially impressed about how much the student body cares about the institution, especially when things are not going the way they should be. I’ve witnessed a lot of student radicalism and I want us to continue that. Students being passionate and demanding better have made my job so much easier. I hope people after my class keep it up, stay passionate about issues that affect them and not resort to silence.”

I’ll end this profile of a more-than-impressive individual with the words of Suzanne Coffey, the Chief Student Affairs Officer, who has gotten to know Tepe well during his time as AAS president.

“If you follow George through a typical day, I’ll bet he interacts with dozens of people from many different constituencies, building steam for various projects, spending time intensely focused on classwork, conjuring up thoughtful well-reasoned ideas to offer in multiple daily committee meetings and still finding time to eat, sleep and be with friends,” Coffey said. “I have no idea how he does it.”