One of my lowest points freshman year (and trust me, I had plenty) found me sobbing in my RA's room, heartbroken after getting the call from my Gamma Chi that I did not receive a bid from any sororities. I had gone through formal recruitment so excitedly—I thought things were supposed to work out, or at least, that's what everyone told me. But there I was, someone who had wanted for a long time to be a part of a sorority, left feeling so completely alone and rejected.
"You could try looking at Alpha Phi Omega," my RA said. "They're a service fraternity, but they are very social too. I have a lot of friends in APO!"
I immediately shut down the idea. A service fraternity? If it was anything like how the biggest service club at my high school was, surely it was full of people just trying to pad their resume, not people who truly cared about making the world a better place. I gave the matter no more thought for almost an entire year.
Through my ups and downs freshman year, I ran into members of Alpha Phi Omega in a couple different ways. I came into my sophomore year looking to find a community I could be part of, something to give my life a purpose and a drive. I followed my gut and decided to give APO a shot.
One of the first signs that I had found my true home in this wonderful community was when I realized just how diverse Alpha Phi Omega is. Many student organizations tend to represent specific demographics, whether they be certain majors, religions, ethnic backgrounds, etc. With APO, I was struck by how every corner of our school was represented. Not only that, but so many close friendships form between people from totally different backgrounds. To join, there's no GPA requirement, no interview, and no ridiculously expensive dues. All you had to do was arrive with an open mind and a passion for helping others.
Because of APO's dry pledge policy, I didn't party or go out with any brothers (that's what we call any member of APO, regardless of gender) who I didn't know before rushing. At first, I thought this was silly and it would be a huge annoyance, but it gave me a chance to reflect and see how many times I did something irresponsible or embarrassing that damaged a friendship or how other people viewed me. Here, I was forming friendships completely substance-free, and it made a big difference.
The biggest life-changing moment for me was when I went on I went on retreat. Once a semester, a group of brothers goes into the wilderness to spend a night camping, getting to know each other, and creating a really magical space of vulnerability where people can talk about really personal things. I shared my story of the gap year I spent in pretty intensive therapy, how I was sent there against my will, and how ashamed I was that I wasn't able to go straight from high school to college like most people. No one judged me. They pointed out that I've had to overcome challenges not everyone has. That perspective really changed how I viewed myself in a lot of ways.
In my first two semesters, I managed to accumulate over 230 community service hours, and I was a finalist for an award through the Office of Volunteer Programs at my school. I had spent my freshman year spinning my wheels, so unaware of how this self-focused attitude was hindering me. I'm an extrovert by nature, I am not fulfilled in my life unless I'm dedicating a significant portion of my time to others.
I was on academic probation during my pledging semester, terrified I would be dropped from my school entirely. But in the span of one semester, my GPA improved by a whole 1.1! I was putting the effort into school not just for me but so that I could stay in this service fraternity which grew to mean so much more to me than just an extracurricular.
I will soon be entering my fourth semester in APO, and it hasn't always been sunshine and rainbows. It's been tough to see close friends graduate or drop. But my motivation to stick with APO lies in the fact that I know I have to carry the torch and create the same experience I had for brothers who just initiated, or who will in the future.
My college career hasn't gone the way I once thought it would. And I couldn't be more grateful. I found something I never expected, and I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.