My bare truth as a student leader


Kristen Flojo

Over time, I've had to consistently step out of my comfort zone, like talking in front of others in order to develop as a student leader.

Luz Silva, Editor-in-Chief

“Luz, you don’t play UNO with us anymore.”

“Yeah, big groups aren’t really my thing.”

I recently had this exchange with my coworkers because they’ve recruited new people and their friend group has expanded, so I quit playing UNO with them. The only thing that I said that came close to an explanation was when I confessed to them that when they’re not at work, I go to my car during our lunch break to avoid contact with everyone else. They didn’t pry, but they added that I wouldn’t be friends with them if it hadn’t been for our other coworker, Mario. I couldn’t help but agree because making friends takes a lot of courage for me, and not to mention time to build up that courage. I’ve always been shy and quiet, and also an introvert, so even having spoken to Mario was unlike me.

The summer before college I was full of surprises. I definitely started off with a “new school, new me” mindset, maybe too quickly. I found myself registering to join the school newspaper that summer, and I signed up to attend a retreat with Student Life before school even started. When I received the email that said I was able to attend, I immediately tensed up at the thought of what I had done. I was going away for three days with a bunch of college students that I had never met. Great, I thought. The night before we left, a high school friend posted a picture of her packing, and after exchanging a couple of messages, it turned out that we were going on the same trip! You would not believe how happy I was, even knowing one other person made a big difference for me. Throughout the retreat, I, more or less, was forced to interact with others, which was the point of the trip itself, but I naively thought I could avoid it until I was ready. However, seeing as we only had two days together, it was now or never. I made some (then) acquaintances and by the time I left the retreat, I was secretary of the Organization of Latin American Students.

This was the beginning of a transformation that has left me a stranger to who I was just two years ago.

When school began, I was put at ease because ECC reminded me of my high school and my classes were not difficult, but that eventually caught up with me. We had a very small staff at the Observer during my first semester, so everyone was writing about two stories per issue – even me, even though I had initially joined to take photographs. Further in the semester, the women’s basketball head coach reached out to me and asked me to reconsider joining the team because they really needed players. My high school teammates encouraged me to join them, and I eventually decided I would.

At this point, I was participating in three extracurriculars, was a full-time student and I was working part-time. This is all to provide context for how and when I experienced my first mental breakdown. I was doing a lot and was new to college. I had been involved before but never in so many things at once, so when midterms came around, I felt heavy. My head was everywhere and nowhere at the same time. I was completing my assignments, but at the same time, I felt like I wasn’t getting anything done. So, finally, I couldn’t handle it anymore and found myself rushing to the newsroom one day after class. I closed the door behind me and sat on the floor, crying, and for the first time in my life, crying brought me no relief. Basketball had always been my getaway in high school, but now, playing at a collegiate level, even at a junior college, brought its own stress.

Just in the first eight weeks of school, I learned a lot in my classes, but that year would still be hard to get through. I could not be an introvert anymore and couldn’t just suddenly make myself capable of handling more than I could. Now, of course, there were plenty of great times and accomplishments with my teammates, fellow leaders and in my education that year too.

Among the difficult times, there were plenty of good memories created. In February, most of the OLAS executive board and other leaders attended the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute (USHLI), which is a national conference that I had attended a couple of times before as a volunteer. It’s the best conference I’ve ever attended, but this one changed my life. During one of the nights on the trip, we were pretty restless, and I brought up how I was struggling with a class and didn’t feel motivated anymore because I was not truly interested in business. Priscilla, the then president of OLAS, asked me something and I went on and on about what I really wanted to do and why I was so hesitant to pursue the career path that I was really interested in. I can’t remember exactly what she said, but ever since then, I have not second-guessed becoming a police officer, and she has no idea how that’s changed my life.

Shortly after this conference, I traveled with the Observer to California for a national conference, and we came back with so many ideas with the majority of them being implemented shortly thereafter. On the flight back, I had an epiphany and figured that OLAS was not for me any longer and decided not to apply for the executive board.

Meanwhile, I was super excited to come back and make our final issues the best ones yet. I asked our advisor if it was possible for me to stay on as editor-in-chief because although it had been a rough year, I had seen myself grow so much in the newsroom. I saw the potential that the staff and I had and chose to stay with them because I believed we could have a real impact on the student body by providing them with real news stories, campus resources and answers to a typical college student’s most pressing questions.

Over time, I was able to get over the fear of talking in front of the staff. After learning what I needed to do and becoming comfortable with many aspects of the newsroom, new challenges arose. One of the biggest problems I had was not relying on others because I was convinced if I didn’t do things myself, it wasn’t being done right. That was immature of me but it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to work with someone who was truly reliable and an exceptional leader that I was able to overcome that.

Being a leader means people will recognize you because they see you around often, which also means they’ll eventually remember what you do on campus. My close friends always bring up how quiet and reserved I was in high school and now refer to me as a social butterfly. I now realize why they believe this to be my new identity, but being a leader means you have to be social, so I’m not sure how I can be one and not the other.

Being involved has helped me realize that it’s a lot like adulthood and that has helped me because I’ve had to exercise my patience a lot more often, problem solve and understand that although I’m working with adults, sometimes it may not seem like it. Also, just because I’m involved, whether I’m doing something significant or not, does not mean I am entitled or should be praised because I’m not that different than my fellow classmates.

Some of the hardest pills I’ve had to swallow during this journey are that being a leader puts you in a position where you’re going to be criticized, and although you may respect others, that respect won’t always be mutual. And that’s okay because that’s what the real world is like; you just have to learn to manage some of the anxiety all of the noise can cause and stay true to your good intentions.

At the beginning of my college education, I decided to become involved for my self-interest, but over time and by the end of my first year, I thought I needed to step up because I figured no one else would and saw potential in our newspaper staff. Following this decision, I’ve had to learn a lot, and very quickly, to become the leader I am today.

The hardest thing I’ve dealt with is stress. I picked up a lot of responsibilities and constantly feel overwhelmed. I enjoy being active, but it’s difficult finding time for everything. The first year I was conflicted because it felt like I was losing myself. However, in reality, I was just struggling with accepting what I’d been able to do, which was stepping so far out of my comfort zone. But I’m glad I did. I know that, by limiting my workload and activities, I can find a balance and not struggle as much, but it’s just a matter of doing that.

I don’t think I would have had the same opportunity if I had gone to any other school, but that’s the great thing about ECC. If you want to do something, you can. I’m still an introvert at heart, but I am leaving a better and stronger leader at the end of this part of my life, and for that, I am thankful.