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Tenacious activist, watchdog says goodbye to UM
When Jon Swan graduates from the University of Montana on Saturday, he leaves behind a legacy of commitment to his peers from his time as president of UM's student government.
Photo by MICHAEL GALLACHER/Missoulian

Former ASUM president kept officials on their toes

Friend or foe, those who know Jon Swan know this: The graduating University of Montana senior from Havre is a force to reckon with.

And a force to watch in coming years.

As president of UM's student government, Swan led a massive campaign that created a statewide student voter guide to Montana legislative candidates; publicly criticized UM administrators about rising costs of tuition and then created a forum for students and administrators to discuss cost-saving measures; and helped other student groups to successfully demand UM alter its blueprints for new campus apartments to increase access for students with disabilities.

Swan also chastised UM administrators for not including students in a decision to sign a $4.2 million contract with Coca-Cola for exclusive distribution rights on campus, demanded that UM administrators look at the corporation's record of human rights violations, and then pushed for - and got - a Montana Board of Regents policy change to ensure students won't again be excluded from participating in major decisions that affect the campus community.

His unrelenting commitment to serving UM students and not backing down despite adversity, led one UM administrator to quip in the student newspaper, "I resent having a 20-year-old tell us how to run the university."

The comment, which was reported in the Kaimin, was cut out, enlarged by a photo copier and taped in a spot of honor - and high profile - on Swan's office wall facing out into the campus' prime gathering spot in the University Center.

The quote was the last thing he packed when he gathered up his things and moved out of his office this week.

Despite the annoyances and unfavorable press Swan may have created for UM administrators, those who worked closely with Swan throughout the year have a great deal of respect for him.

"He's a young, very bright, almost precocious guy, who has really grown over the past year," said Bob Duringer, UM's vice president of administration and finance.

"Jon is very passionate and articulate about the issues he cares about, and he's very analytical," he said. "He's helped us get a full look at all the issues we might not have covered, like arranging a meeting with a (Coca-Cola) union activist."

UM's business school dean said he has seen a lot of talented students in his tenure, and Swan ranks among the best.

"I have always known how bright Jon is, but I really marvel at his leadership skills," said Larry Gianchetta. "I have watched a lot kids over the years, but Jon has a unique capacity of integrating an entire group of people and somehow drawing them out and getting them actively involved."

Gianchetta first met Swan when he arrived from the Hi-Line as a freshman business major and asked about the school's American Indian Business Leaders program, which Gianchetta supervises.

At the time, Swan said he wanted to stay connected to his Chippewa-Cree heritage and American Indian roots. Before long, he was an integral part of Gianchetta's program.

When Swan became AIBL's vice president in 2000, the group of 20-some students garnered a Chapter of the Year award, which is a rare honor and one it had never before received.

Other honors soon followed.

Swan was chosen for Harvard Law School's Civil Rights Summer Fellowship; a Washington, D.C., internship with the National Congress of American Indians; and he earned several prestigious academic scholarships, such as the national competitive Truman graduate school scholarship and the Gates Millennium Merit-based Scholarship. He also was a finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship and was honored for his accomplishments at UM's annual student powwow last month.

On Saturday, Swan graduates with a 4.0 grade-point average in his major, business finance, and a cumulative GPA of 3.8.

"Graduation and moving on is really bittersweet for me," Swan said. "It's going to be difficult to pack up and leave for good. UM has been such an important part of my life.

"This is a wonderful place because it forces students to learn life from all different perspectives, and for that I am incredibly thankful," he said. "There's a saying that 90 percent of education is learned outside the classroom, and my experiences with ASUM and other campus organizations have taught me so much - commitment, fiscal responsibility, leadership and to accept and try to understand the other side of an issue."

After graduation, Swan will serve a 10-week summer internship with U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., in his Washington, D.C., office and then pack his bags for Denver, where he will begin learning the banking trade with Native American Bank on Sept. 1. Later, he plans to apply to Harvard Business School or the Kennedy School of Government.

Ultimately, his goal is to help other aspiring American Indian students succeed in their journey.

"I hope someday I can be in a position to benefit others and help them achieve a fulfilling education," Swan said. "I know there are efforts to give the Native American studies program more resources and maybe a new building on campus. Anything I can do to be involved with that, I will."

Although his life will soon take him far from campus, Swan said UM will always be him, and he'll dutifully read his favorite newspaper - the Kaimin - from wherever he is.

As for UM administrators, they surely won't forget him.

"I look for great things from Jon," Duringer said. "I believe he'll come back one day a prominent business guy UM will be proud of."

Said Gianchetta: "We'll definitely be following his career."

Reporter Betsy Cohen can be reached at 523-5253 or at

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