Five Questions with Keenan Kassar, University of Illinois senior
By Jane Donahue For The Sun January 31, 2013 5:12PM
Matt Maloney, of the Respiratory Health Association (left) presented Keenan Kassar with the "Making a Difference" award for his efforts at the University of Illinois. | Submitted
Updated: March 2, 2013 12:06PM
Keenan Kassar already has an impressive political resume.
The University of Illinois senior is a member of the school’s senate, and the driving force behind a smoke-free initiative at the Urbana-Champaign campus.
“I saw that smoking was a problem on campus and was aware that there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” the 20-year-old said. “As a newly elected senator, I decided to do something about it.”
For those on the Illini campus, the Illinois Student Senate is called the “official voice of the student body.”
Kassar has been heard loud and clear.
“I made a resolution starting small; I went for a smoke-free quad,” he said. “I was told by several senators that that was beyond the scope of the senate, so I decided to drop the resolution and instead go straight for a fully smoke-free campus through a referendum.”
He held a referendum, and collected more than 3,000 signatures to support it. More than 10,000 people voted, he said, and 69 percent indicated they would like discussion leading toward a smoke-free campus.
The rest is history. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus will officially become smoke-free in November.
For his efforts, Kassar recently was chosen a recipient for the Respiratory Health Association “Our Making a Difference” award. Joel Africk, Respiratory Health Association chief operating officer, said by “leading the way to a smoke-free campus, Keenan has created a healthier environment for more than 50,000 students, faculty and staff members at University of Illinois.”
“A smoke-free campus means fewer Illini will be exposed to secondhand smoke, fewer students will take up smoking in the first place, and many current smokers will have the encouragement they need to break the habit,” Africk said.
Kassar was honored along with other recipients during a December ceremony.
“This award means a great deal to me, especially given where it’s coming from,” Kassar said. “The Respiratory Health of Metropolitan Chicago does amazing work in striving to make the world a better and healthier place.”
Along with being a student senator, the 2010 Neuqua Valley graduate founded Students for a Better Illinois, a group of Illini students who work “to better the future” of the university. He plans to graduate in May — a year early — with a degree in business administration.
As far as his political future, he is leaving his options open.
1. Were there any teachers at Neuqua who inspired you?
“I had Hugh Flanders as my U.S. history teacher at Neuqua. He is a very wise man, and he didn’t just teach about great men and women who did great things for this nation in the past, but also (taught) about how his own students can be good leaders and achieve success. In addition, he dedicated a small section of the class, towards the end, to college and professional prep.”
2. How did Neuqua prepare you for your college career?
“I think the wide selection of advanced placement (AP) courses and extracurricular activities at Neuqua really gives its students an edge. Having taken full advantage of AP coursework, I can say they really helped develop me as a person. That’s not to mention all my teachers were great.”
3. What do you like to do in your spare time?
“The majority of my spare time that I don’t spend with friends or working out, I just read, whether it’s newspapers, magazines or online articles. My favorite is ‘The Economist.’”
4. What do you plan to do after graduation?
“I’ll be somewhere in the corporate world for a few years following graduation, then I’ll consider going to law school to become a corporate lawyer. When I’m settled enough, I’ll probably get involved in politics too.”
5. What is something most people would be surprised to learn about you?
“No surprises, I’m an open book.”