May 06, 2014

MISSION MATTERS: The Impact of ‘Serving Humanity'

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My first experience with the Mission of Saint Louis University was through my involvement with Oriflamme. Oriflamme, is a group of more than 100 students clad in bright orange and blue who physically move in the belongings of all 1,200-or-so first year students into their residence halls. While carrying a futon up to the seventh floor of the Griesedieck Complex, sweating through your shirt in the St. Louis summer humidity or doing the "The Wobble" six times in four hours seem may seem unbearable to some, those are only a few of the many joys of being in Oriflamme.

There is something special about Oriflamme leaders that inspires underclassmen to apply to the organization. I applied because of my own floor leaders. My Oriflamme leaders inspired my shy, less confident, freshman self to paint her face and cheer until she lost her voice at the first men's soccer game of the season. They ate lunch with me during the first few weeks of school, as I slowly began to make friends my own age. And whenever I had a question about any student organization, they not only introduced me to someone in the group, but also made sure all of my questions were answered. The kindness of my Oriflamme leaders extended far beyond Fall Welcome and throughout my entire first year.

Oriflamme leaders were not only my role models, but also became my friends. Each year, a few of my leaders would graduate and I would panic about how I would fill their void in my life. Who is going to help the first-year students? I didn't know enough to lead them! As new challenges arose, I found myself able to rise to the occasion. I learned the difference between the psychology, biology and chemistry buildings. I could encourage two strangers to dance together at the Fall Welcome square dance. And I learned to listen to what students were actually saying and then address their concerns.

This past fall, I was fortunate enough to serve as the president of Oriflamme. My responsibilities included carrying fewer mini-refrigerators, but needing to address many individuals' concerns. I didn't feel like I was serving my peers like my Oriflamme leaders had served me. I was having fewer conversations with first-year students and doing more of making sure my teammates were wearing sunscreen. Through a series of unfortunate events, I ended up with a back sprain and not able to do much physical activity. I was frustrated with myself for contracting such an avoidable injury, but also not feeling confident with my role on the team. I had to take a step back (literally and mentally) to evaluate the purpose of Oriflamme.

While we are here, initially, for the logistical convenience of new students, our actions have a far greater purpose. We encourage students to break out of their comfort zones, to pursue new interests and to show them the kindness and inclusiveness of our community. While my loads evolved to pillows and lamps, I was able to have more conversations with misty-eyed parents about moving in their eldest child, and my personal favorite, recommending my favorite off-campus dining locations. Though my responsibilities were to address logistics, my greater impact was on the families and peers I spoke with and served.

The University Mission most resonates with me through the phrase, "The pursuit of truth, for the greater glory of God, and for the service of humanity." Our actions, interactions and words extend farther than their intended impact; they can turn simple tasks into opportunities to inspire and comfort others. It's not the size of the action that counts, but the people we are serving. We are of service to one another, and by serving one another, we give glory to God.

As we near the last days of the school year, school-itis sets in and the little things often feel arduous and unnecessary. We should keep in mind that that any interaction or task can be a defining moment in another person's life. While offering someone a pencil, a spot on an intramural team or a meal swipe may seem like such trivial things at first, they can be the start of building the greater good in someone else's life.

- Keilah Johnson, College of Arts and Sciences

Higher purpose. Greater good.
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