Zap the Sap!

Zap the Sap!

From Chicken Soup for the College Soul

Zap the Sap!

For me, growth begins immediately after I am able to admit my mistakes and forgive myself.

Kimberly Kirberger

I couldn’t believe it. As I walked onto campus I saw posters everywhere with the words “Zap the Sap!” scrawled on them. I was the student body president and I was being recalled from my position. As my peers began arriving on campus, I watched them gather around the posters and then look my way. At that moment, I felt my heart, my character, and my whole body was being pushed back and forth over a cheese-grater. I was in pieces and trying desperately to keep my composure.

When I was elected student body president, campus officials congratulated me on my campaign saying it was one of the best the college had seen. My political career began by throwing Frisbees on the campus lawn. I would throw a Frisbee to someone I didn’t know and they would throw it to someone they didn’t know. Before long, we had built a community of people who met every day at lunch to throw Frisbees.

One day while throwing Frisbees, the group spontaneously decided to climb the mountain near our campus. When we reached the summit, it felt like we were at summer camp. We laughed, danced and told dirty jokes. It was intoxicatingly fun. While playing like little children in the cool mountain air, we unanimously decided to do it again the following week. Our motto was “Bring a Friend.”

So the next week while playing Frisbee, we would throw it to someone we didn’t know, run over and invite them to climb the mountain with us. We would say, “Climbing the mountain is better than sex. We guarantee a climax every time.”

We started out with a small group of hikers. But as the word spread, the number of participants increased. One day on campus, I met a woman in a wheelchair and we started talking. Her name was Grace. I asked her if she had ever been to the top of the mountain. She said she hadn’t. I told her that my buddies and I would carry her if she were up for it. Grace accepted the offer. The next time we went up the mountain, we all took turns grabbing a corner of her chair as we carried her 1.7 miles to the top.

This was probably one of the most magical and deeply meaningful things I did in college. By the end, we had over seventy-five people climbing the mountain on Thursdays, including Grace. All of us who participated felt like we were part of something much bigger than we were. We were building a community and it felt great.

With the student body elections approaching, my friends from the mountain encouraged me to run for president. So I did. I knew I could make a difference. With a campaign team of seventy-five people rallying around me, no one was surprised that I had won the election.

The first thing I did as president was hang a sign outside the Associated Students office that read, “Under New Management!” I was proud of my accomplishment to say the least. Most of my life as a youth was spent in the principal’s office for being in trouble and this was one of the few times I had actually achieved bona fide respect and appreciation from my peers.

They say absolute power corrupts absolutely. It sure did in my case. I let all the power go to my head. My ego, my arrogance and my pride were out of control. I began speaking down to people, demanding they listen to me because I thought I knew what was best. My friends and supporters tried to communicate to me that I had changed, that I was abusing my position, but I wasn’t listening.

It wasn’t long before the very people who had believed in my presidency began to turn against me. But I still wasn’t paying attention. I took my obsession with power to such an extreme. A public conflict with the female vice president opened the floodgates for others who were upset with me. It became a blood bath. What started out as a wonderfully enriching experience, or so I thought, suddenly turned into one of my worst nightmares. “Zap the Sap!” posters would soon be everywhere on campus.

When I realized I had made a mistake, it was too late. My whole world collapsed. I had never felt so much pain and sadness in my life as I did then. There I was, one of the most-liked guys on campus, powerful and making a difference, until my ego took over and destroyed everything.

A friend of mine said, “When a man looks into the abyss and nothing is staring back, that is when he finds his true character.” I was empty and emotionally bankrupt. I was at the bottom and had nowhere else to go but up. I began to rebuild. I apologized to a couple of die-hard supporters, who for whatever reason did not quit on me, and asked them to forgive me for all the wrong doing I had committed. They accepted. I told them I was going to fight this recall election. I wasn’t just going to roll over and accept defeat.

The campus was in an uproar. Every day the newspaper had an article or letter to the editor saying what a big jerk I was. So I went back out to the campus lawn and began explaining to the students that the allegations were true. I had let the power get to my head and abused my position. I promised that I had learned my lesson and that I was not done serving the students. I wanted to build a coffeehouse on the campus, only the second of its kind in the state. I wanted to build it near the fine arts area and have the theater department do one-act plays, the music department perform concerts and the speech department recite poetry there. I thought to myself, Please do not recall me. I am not done yet.

I am not sure if I would have been recalled or not, but, by a stroke of magic or divine intervention, summer came. The charges were dropped and I stayed in office.

The next semester, I had a chance to begin again. As I approached my mission to build the coffeehouse, I was much more humble. I wanted to show the campus and myself that I was worthy of my position. I had never built a coffeehouse before and didn’t really know what I was doing, so I asked everyone for help. I asked the students, my advisor, the governing board and the college president.

I used to think that I had to pretend to know what I was doing, that I had everything under control and that I was in charge. It was that kind of thinking that got me into trouble in the first place. Now, I was finding that the easiest way to gain other people’s respect was to admit to them what I did not know. I was shocked. It was my not knowing, my humility, and my willingness to ask others for help that was making me win in my new endeavor.

I finished my term as president. In the end, the team that I had put together raised over $125,000 and we built a coffeehouse that is still there eleven years later.

On graduation day, as I grabbed my diploma and walked past my college president, he whispered, “Son, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Eric Saperston

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