You have probably seen the posters around campus, or maybe you were even invited to an event on Facebook to attend a speech, a forum, or a day of remembrance. While you all may have heard of the Purdue University College Republicans, you might not know the man behind this organization. From the small town of Lawrenceburg, Indiana, Mike Cunningham is your typical college guy… or so you’d think.
As the President of Sigma Phi Epsilon, he loves to relax and hang out with his fraternity brothers and friends. Like every college guy, he likes to be outdoors and throw back a few brews. And if he isn’t doing any of the above, he is probably at a Cincinnati Reds game, because baseball is his second passion. Like I said, typical guy. But Mike is different; he has this energy about him. He embodies a certain sense of determination, ambition, and power.
Mike knew that at some point in his college career he wanted to be the president of the Purdue University College Republicans. This past summer he was given an ultimatum from the previous president: he either had to become president right away or PUCR would be no more. As a junior at Purdue, majoring in history and minoring in both communication and law & society, Mike is now the president of PUCR. He truly is a born leader. After all, it is his first passion. As president of PUCR, he has been able to travel and make all of his future plans more of a reality.
“It changed my life as a conservative and as an activist. It opened a lot of doors for me,” he said in our interview, speaking of attending the National Conservative Student Conference through the Young America’s Foundation this summer.
It was after that conference that Mike was given the opportunity to make a name for not only for himself, but for Purdue as well. It was his time to shine and shine he did. Mike traveled to Washington, D.C. where he spoke on a two-minute panel at the Conservative Political Action Conference. It is with these experiences that he has been able to grow as a person while combining his insights, knowledge, and ambitions to make Purdue’s campus more politically aware and involved.
After asking Mike what his favorite experiences have been as president of PUCR, I was immediately flooded with answers. It is obvious how much he believes in what he does. He is gracious and thankful for all that he has achieved, and sees everything as such a wonderful learning experience.
First semester of this year, PUCR held the “9/11 Never Forget Project,” where they filled the lawn by Lambert Fieldhouse with rows upon rows of miniature American flags to remember all of those lost.
“It really hit home. I was being thanked by people I didn’t know saying they appreciated what we had done.”
Mike has been even more pleased with PUCR this semester, because they are being much more active and outspoken as an organization.
“You can’t be afraid to be the elephant in the room,” Mike said (what a cute political pun). He instructed his constituents in PUCR to be loud, be active, and do.
“Challenge what people are saying,” he said.
After the event “Stand Up for Israel,” which was also one of their most controversial events, PUCR invited the Deputy Consul General of Israel, Shahar Arieli, to Purdue. Arieli came and spoke, which was a huge accomplishment for PUCR. It wasn’t until after this speech, though, that Mike was approached by fellow student Republicans and verbally attacked for his actions.
“They called me an ’embarrassment’ to Republicans and told me I was being biased,” Mike said. But he knows he had his head on straight and refuses to back down. “If speaking my mind is being an ’embarrassment’ to Republicans then I’m fine with that.”
But Mike wouldn’t let a little criticism shake him down. PUCR ended the 2011 school year with a bang, hosting potential presidential candidate and Purdue Alumnus Herman Cain on Wednesday April 20.
“There were 220 people there from all across Indiana. I would say we met our goal for this event,” Mike said, very pleased with the outcome.
Mike values his experiences as president of PUCR and believes he has gained a lot.
“It has all helped me with my future plans, being able to lead an organization and bring prominent figures to Purdue. Gaining these experiences helped me speak at a conference of over 10,000 people.”
But what does Mike plan to do with all of this experience? I asked him to picture life at age 40.
“I want to be a congressman, holding a position where I can make a difference.”
It’s amazing to see someone so young with such great accomplishments under his belt. Despite his accomplishments with PUCR, it is really his wisdom that sets him apart and makes him our campus celebrity. If you ask him, Mike will tell you that the best leadership experience he has is not standing up and speaking his mind on being a conservative or an activist, rather it is the experience and leadership gained from being the president of his fraternity.
“You learn more about yourself by the way you deal with other people,” Mike said. “If you want your organization to thrive you have to make the right decisions, not the popular decisions.”
Well said. Let’s be honest, someone has to be held accountable, especially in college. There is always someone that wants to bend the rules.
“It is how you are able to deal with that and work with people… and to still be friends at the end of the day – it is amazing.” Spoken like a true leader.
Mike represents all that college students should be striving for wisdom beyond their years, ambition for days, and the strongest sense of self. Mike, needless to say – you’re celeb material for sure! And for all of you Boiler collegiettes™ that just fell in love after reading this article, he is single and totally open to dating girls affiliated with a different political party. Cunningham for President 2030!