As he wrapped up his tenure as Sphinx Club’s 100th president, Adam El-Khalili ’23 beamed with pride reflecting on how far he’s come over the last four years.
When El-Khalili first arrived to campus, the West Lafayette native felt unsure. He questioned where exactly he’d fit in, if he could juggle being a student-athlete, and what he wanted to do in the future.
“I intended on being a chemistry major, but that changed after my first semester. I loved the math portion, but I did not like the labs,” El-Khalili said. “I questioned what I wanted to do with chemistry and if it’s something I actually enjoyed.
“That uncertainty was scary and a little discouraging at first, but I didn’t let it stop me from trying something new,” he said. “I was reassured by my professors that it was OK to not know right then what I wanted and to explore my options. I gave economics a shot my second semester, enjoyed it, added business to the mix, and now here I am!”
A lot has happened since freshman year for the financial economics major and business minor.
El-Khalili has distinguished himself at Wabash through a variety of campus leadership roles and academic achievement. He is the treasurer of Delta Tau Delta, a captain of the swimming and diving team, served as Sphinx Club president, and is a member of the Center for Innovation, Business, and Entrepreneurship (CIBE) and Arabic Club.
Additionally, El-Khalili is one of four seniors to be awarded an Orr Fellowship, guaranteeing him a two-year, salaried position working at Heritage Group in Indianapolis.
“If you told me four years ago that I’d accomplish all I have at Wabash, I might not have believed you,” El-Khalili said. “Wabash pushes you to become someone better than the person you were when you first arrived to campus.”
One area El-Khalili has experienced significant growth has been with Wabash’s swimming and diving team as a distance swimmer.
“He was this tiny, really skinny kid,” Head Swimming and Diving Coach Will Bernhardt recalls of the Harrison High School grad when he first joined the team. “He had never stepped foot in a weight room before coming to college.
“Each and every year, he was able to put on a little bit more muscle, a little bit more weight to get into phenomenal shape,” coach said. “He’s improved exponentially since the moment he first stepped foot on deck. He’s put on muscle, dropped time, performed better in the water and weight room, and became more of an athlete.”
Building that physicality took some mental strength too, Bernhardt said.
“One of the bigger challenges he had to overcome was believing just how good of an athlete he could be,” Bernhardt said. “He enjoyed swimming, but he wasn’t a big point contributor at his high school, so there wasn’t a lot of confidence coming in. Once he got here, he had to really push himself and find the ability to say, ‘I can do this.’
“I’m incredibly proud of how far he’s come because it would have been easy for him to throw in the towel at any point and say, ‘This is too hard.’ But he didn’t,” he said. “He stuck with it, kept plugging away, and went on to score and letter every year he’s been on the team.”
El-Khalili’s commitment to the sport and to his teammates hasn’t gone unnoticed amongst his peers. For the last two years, he’s served as a team captain — an honor given via a team vote.
“I’ve been using the same leadership skills I learned in Sphinx Club and Delta Tau Delta to help lead the team,” El-Khalili said. “I may not be the fastest person in the water, but I'm definitely the guy who’s always hyping people up before the races, making sure that they’re feeling relaxed but also being pushed hard to be the best that they can be.”
From his work preserving Wabash traditions and brotherhood as Sphinx Club president, to his eagerness to mentor other economic majors, Economics Professor Eric Dunaway said he’s enjoyed watching the senior grow into the leader that he is today.
“Success in one builds success in others,” said Dunaway, El-Khalili’s academic advisor. “What Adam’s done for Sphinx Club has helped him in the classroom. That’s probably one of the strongest liberal arts aspects we hope to see in all students — this drive not only to be involved, but be successful, in more than one thing.”
With comprehensive exams behind him, El-Khalili now looks forward to having fun and enjoying his last few months on campus with his brothers before going on to work with the finance and data analytics teams at Heritage Group.
“Wabash really is tough,” El-Khalili said. “When I leave here, I hope people think of me as somebody who worked hard and played hard. I hope they’re inspired, and when an obligation comes their way, rather than shutting down, they fully embrace the challenge and say, ‘Let’s get after it.’ And when the work is done, they take a minute to crack a joke and enjoy the small things. That’s the legacy I hope to leave.”