Rider University marches for 'Cali'
By: John Dunphy, Managing Editor
Hundreds of Rider University students took the "Cali Pledge" on Monday. Rider students met at the Moore Library to participate in the "Cali March," a walk around the school's 353-acre Route 206 campus.
The fundraising walk, initiated and assembled by the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, was held in honor of Gary DeVercelly, the 18-year-old freshman who died last month after a night of binge drinking at the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity.
The "Cali March," named for Mr. DeVercelly, who was nicknamed "Cali" because he was from California, was originally scheduled to go off last week but was postponed due to the major storm that hit this area. Students participating in the walk were asked to make a donation of any denomination toward a newly established scholarship named after Mr. DeVercelly. The fundraising goal set by organizers was $10,000.
A total of $8,366 had been raised when an anonymous Rider faculty member made a donation just prior to the start of the walk to bring the amount up to $10,000. The new scholarship will be given to incoming freshmen. In addition, all incoming freshmen will be asked to sign the "Cali Pledge," a small card with three pledges to be aware and careful about alcohol consumption.
Steven Klemchalk, the Rider Student Government Association (SGA) president and fundraising chairman of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, asked everyone to read the pledge with him.
"I pledge to 'serve as my fellow students' keeper and seek help for myself or others when needed.' I pledge to 'refrain from abusing alcohol and participating in harmful drinking games.' I pledge to 'insure that neither I nor any of my friends will drive under the influence.'"
Mr. Klemchalk, a senior, said that in addition to the event serving as a fundraiser, something needed to be done for the community following the March 30 tragedy. "We need to raise funds, but we also need to raise awareness," he said.
Sophomore Brian Pawelko, vice president of the SGA, as well as a member of the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity Mr. DeVercelly had been pledging to join, said the march represented the second phase in the community's recovery from the incident.
"We had time to mourn, now this is the pro-active stage," he said. "We're trying to raise funds, try to get this off the ground. And we're also showing everyone the dangers of alcohol abuse. It's a reminder that alcohol is a dangerous drug."
With a relatively strong Greek community at Rider University, many of those who came out for the walk wore football-style jerseys with their Greek organization's name emblazoned on the front. Others wore blue T-shirts proclaiming this "Greek Week '07."
One student, who asked not to be interviewed, wore a white button-down shirt with an ironed-on image of Gary DeVercelly, his name, and his date of birth and death. Others, such as junior Jamie Papapetros, wore their regular clothes, choosing to attend the walk despite having no connection with Mr. DeVercelly.
"I didn't know him personally," he said. "But, I feel it's good for the community to come together like this. It's not just enough to pay lip service. We need to start making changes. This signifies the start of that process of initiating effective change."
Anthony Campbell, dean of students at Rider, shared Mr. Papapetros' sentiments. "This is about personal and shared responsibility," he said. "You need to make decisions yourself but, also, work with other students to make sure they make the right choices." Mr. Klemchalk said to the audience, "This could happen anywhere. "We need to prevent this in the future," he said. "Our goal is to make Rider a safer institute."
"When you walk, please think of Gary," Mr. Klemchalk added.