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The UCF campus was nearly devoid of its usual commotion at 11:30 p.m. on Thursday, but the Key West Ballroom in the Student Union, in contrast, was a place of eloquent speeches and contentious debate.

After what was an especially long SGA Senate session involving the SGA Speaker of the Senate nominations and election, bleary-eyed senators mulled over which candidate to vote for to fill the recently vacated position of SGA Speaker of the Senate.

With a few minutes before midnight, 28 votes won Crystian Cepeda, who occupies Seat No. 4 in College of Engineering and Computer Science, the election for SGA Speaker of the Senate. The Speaker of the Senate is the highest position in the legislative branch.

The nomination and subsequent election came minutes after former SGA Speaker Meghan Kircher, who graduates this semester, officially resigned. Initially, four candidates were nominated: Senator Isel Bedgood, Senator Cara Gillaspie, Senator Crystian Cepeda and Senator Scott Benton.

Senator Scott Benton, who occupies seat No. 1 in the College of Health and Public Affairs, said he felt compelled to “humbly decline” his nomination because he believed other senators were more qualified for the position. Benton’s humble refusal left three candidates the task of persuading the SGA senate of their worth and ability to fill the role via 10-minute nomination speeches.

Once the candidates delivered their speeches, a limited 15-minute debate ensued, which saw the candidates being questioned by senators on SGA issues and inquiries regarding what they believed made them the most qualified for the position, as well as what they considered their personal strengths and weakness.

“In the beginning […] I sat there and questioned my own potential but then I realized that every single one of you questioned your own potential as well,” Cepeda said, as he explained how he initially had doubts about himself and his ability to fill the role of SGA speaker effectively, but soon grew out of his self-doubt.

“Some of you don’t even understand the skills you are learning here, subconsciously,” Cepeda added. “I want to be the guy, and the speaker, who’s going to tell you that you can do it, that we can make a change. […] I’ve faced adversity in my past. I’ve let people tell me that I’m just going to be an average speaker, and that’s not going to be the case, because I understand my potential. And I know that you guys have the potential to be great. And that’s what I want to do: encourage you.”

Bedgood emphasized that she believes more education of senators on parliamentary procedures, policies and constitutions during the summer in order to reduce the information overload new senators experience, which, she says, judging from her experience, might cause intimidation to vote on bills or speak their minds in meetings.

“I think I’m the best candidate due to my longevity on Senate,” said Senator Isel Bedgood, who occupies Seat No. 2 in the College of Sciences and has been in Senate since the 46th Session. “I sat on Senate leader council, I’ve been in numerous amounts of committees: the Activity and Service Fee [committee], the scholarship committee, ORC, [and] LJR. I’ve been on several committees, so I have the wisdom that comes with time, and I think [wisdom] is essential in a leader.”

Although Gillaspie was the most soft-spoken of the three candidates, she boldly emphasized her extent of experience from being involved in the various SGA committees as setting her apart from the other candidates for Speaker of the Senate, sharing that she has worked hard to understand every aspect of SGA with the hopes to someday become Speaker.

“I’ve taken on every single internal position you could possibly have taken within Senate,” Gillaspie said in response to the question of why she believes she is the most qualified candidate. “So I’ve been super into my work, and I’ve worked really, really hard to understand every aspect of Senate.”

Kircher spoke in favor of Cepeda during the debate time of the election, mentioning that she believes the best individual for the position of Speaker are those who go above and beyond the  requirements of their job, a quality she thinks Cepeda has displayed in his service to SGA.

“I think that going well above and beyond your job requirements is what we really need in this position,” Kircher said. “And I think that, in the past year, DPT Cepeda has just excelled in everything he wanted to accomplish […] He is the most ethical and kind leader that I think I’ve met during all my time in Senate, which is why I urge you all to vote in favor of him.”

And vote in favor of him, the Senate did. By the end of the night, Senator Cepeda was elected the position of SGA Speaker of the Senate with 28 votes out of 40. Senator Bedgood won seven votes, and Gillaspie won five votes. Senator Ryan Garwood, SGA’s Deputy Pro Tempore of Legislative Affairs, was the only candidate for the position of Senate President Pro Tempore and was elected to the position with no contest.

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Gabby Baquero is the Entertainment Editor for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @Gabby_Baquero or email her at MariaB@centralfloridafuture.com

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