The 21-year-old sits in a tastefully decorated office. His flip flops, broken in by more than three years of walking to class, rest on a plush deep blue carpet. The walls around him are covered in luxurious wallpaper.
A desk of heavy, dark wood sits in front of him, papers piling up at both corners. The paned window across from him looks out into the heart of the home he has had for the last four years.
Who is he? Some prodigy investment banker? A spoiled heir to a corporation? Far from it.
He grew up in Oak Lawn, played the trumpet in Marist High School’s band and requested his full name be used to make his mom happy. Then why the impressive office? What makes him so exceptional?
He is Christopher Kantas, student trustee on the University of Illinois’ Board of Trustees. He was elected in March after a memorable campaign, defeating two other students. He represents 42,000 undergraduate and graduate students at the U of I at Urbana-Champaign, serving as their voice when the big decisions must be made.
Amazingly, he is one of the only student representatives at the core of the university’s administration. Each University of Illinois campus elects a student trustee for a year, but the other nine trustees are selected for six-year terms by the governor, who is an ex officio member of the board. Only one student trustee is selected by the governor to have an official vote.
Kantas says his interest in student government began as a student at Marist, when he served as president of the school’s chapter of the National Honor Society.
“We did a lot of fundraising, started a voter registration drive and worked at a local soup kitchen,” he said. “That was one of the first times I realized I wanted to work for students, wherever I was.”
The urge stuck with him through his adjustment from high school to the college, from Marist to the U of I. Kantas quickly found the Illinois Student Senate, a representative body with students from each of the university’s respective colleges who present student issues and serve as a part of a larger university legislative body, and served as a student senator for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
The senate “was a great start, but the experience made me realize that becoming student trustee would allow me to better represent the students of the University,” he said. “One of my biggest goals coming to college was to find a position that would allow me to do just that.”
Though balancing classes, prep work for the law school admission test, involvement in his fraternity and other campus groups, his work as trustee and trying to savor his senior year can become overwhelming, Kantas said he is realistic about his situation.
“I took on all the responsibilities that came along with this position,” he said. “If I don’t do all I can to fulfill them, I’m not doing my duty.”
Ryan Ruzic, current student body president at the U of I in Urbana-Champaign, has known Kantas since he began working in the student senate. He said there is no one better for the job than Kantas.
“Chris is deeply committed to this university, and I know he’ll do the best he can to ensure that the rights and lives of students on this campus will be protected,” Ruzic said.
There are benefits that outweigh the hectic schedule of meetings, Kantas says, glancing out the window overlooking the university’s Quad.
“When someone approaches me with a problem they clearly feel very strongly about, and we’re able to accomplish their goal, that’s the most fulfilling part of my job.”
Looking to the end of the year, Kantas said the reality of being a senior has not sunk in, but he plans to go to law school. Someday he would like to become a state’s attorney in Cook County, and make a difference in the communities he grew up in.
“I truly believe that when you give someone the opportunity to give something back, they’ll take you up on it,” he said. “But the opportunity has to be there first.”