In undergrad I was involved in Alpha Phi Omega, one of the largest international collegiate service organizations. Looking back to my time at Truman, so much of my identity was rooted in APO—wearing letters to class, weekend service trips, chapter and exec meetings, and just random hangouts with friends. Now, in grad school, I’m realizing so much of my identity is rooted in the things that I learned while apart of APO.
In APO our pillars are leadership, friendship, and service. Through our pledging process we’re taught that serving on the exec board will benefit the chapter at large, doing community service will help our community, and that friendship is the key to a happy life. But for me, the true meanings of these pillars didn’t sink in until a bit later.
I completed over three hundred hours of community service throughout my time in my chapter. Of course doing good in the community was transformative, but the most important thing I learned was to be of service, not to just the community or to my Brothers, but to anyone who needs it. To me, this is different than doing service. Being of service means fixing a problem without being asked, and asking for no praise and just doing good because you can. Being of service to others makes your heart feel warm, and presumably you bring someone joy. What’s better than that?
Being of service directly connects with our pillar of friendship. In my opinion, one of the best qualities of a friend is one who is of service. Someone who will give you advice, tell you when you’re wrong, and just generally be around when you need them to be. This idea of being of service has transformed my idea of what it means to be a friend, and a colleague to the students in my program. I want to be friends with others in our program, and I realized that I went about making new friends in a way that is so familiar to APO’s principles. Plus, being apart of a group with a collective identity taught me to advocate for everyone, even if they’re ‘competing’ with me. Grad school can sometimes feel like a big competition–who can get the most funding, the most prestigious internships, or write the best essay. But instead of wanting something my colleagues earn, I’m proud of them. We’re all apart of the same program, and maybe I’ll get the next scholarship, who knows!
I also served as my chapter President during my last year in APO. Getting into the position I assumed I would be organizing meetings, putting out fires from small interpersonal problems, and generally just making sure my chapter stayed afloat. It’s so funny how we always underestimate and rationalize complicated situations to ourselves. Anyway, when I was elected president I had a concussion, I was engulfed in final projects and exams, dealing with personal relationship issues, and I was preparing for a study abroad program in London. I quickly came to the realization that while I was dealing with all of this, everyone else in my chapter was going through something too.
I’m a triple Scorpio (yikes, I know) so my leadership style quickly became helping everyone deal with their personal problems in anyway that I could in order to not only help them, but also make them love our chapter as much as I did. Ever since joining, APO was a place for me to totally be myself and be accepted for it, and I wanted everyone to feel that way. I just knew that if I couldn’t help someone with their problems, then there was someone in our chapter who could. However, I was still dealing with almost 100 college aged students, so naturally there was drama and problems that couldn’t be fixed. Sometimes because people didn’t want help, and sometimes because the world isn’t always fair and people make malicious decisions on purpose.
Literally the most important thing I learned in college was through my time as president of APO. I realized that not all problems are mine to solve and not all problems can be solved. This isn’t radical, obviously. I’ve just always been the kind of person that sees a problem, fixes said problem, finds next problem, fixes it, on repeat. It was exhausting.
Learning this definitely has made me more chill (I hope my friends would agree). In grad school if I can’t finish a reading for class I remind myself that I’ve read the other two and I’ve finished the assignment. I’m no longer so hard on myself when I try my best.
Also while serving as President I had to lead weekly meetings, communicate with the chapter and our advisors, and just generally be the face of the organization on campus. For an introvert, this was exhausting. But I’m forever grateful for these experiences! Since serving as President I’m more confident in asking group members to accomplish tasks on time, talking in class, and scheduling meetings. Practicing these life skills in a low stakes environment like APO easily made my transition into grad school much easier.
Right before graduation I wrote a post on my Instagram about how much APO pushed me to my absolute limits and I hoped that instead of remembering all of the negatives that come with being apart of any organization that in five years I could remember only the good memories with my friends. It hasn’t been a full year since graduating Truman and leaving APO, and I’m already thankful for my experiences and all of the drama and nonsense is fading.