The Best Decision I Made in College

Four years is not a long time to make the most important decisions in your life. However, going to college forces everyone to make life-altering choices that will dictate their future. From choosing your major to managing your time between extracurriculars and homework, every action will determine four of the best years of your life.

Now that I have graduated and have entered the professional world, I have the luxury of looking back at my years at Pitzer. Now that school has started again for many of my friends, I started reminiscing my tenure as an undergraduate. I remembered changing my major from neuroscience to economics, my year-long challenges as President of Claremont Students for Israel (CSI), and spending an hour a week to meeting with my Chabad rabbi to study Tanya. I also made very silly choices, and those serve as a reminder that we are imperfect and have a chance to improve.

But of all my memories of college, one moment stands out amongst the rest, and it occurred a few days after I returned from AIPAC’s Policy Conference in 2014. As I was finishing my game theory problem set, I get a phone call from someone who worked at Alpha Epsilon Pi, the international Jewish fraternity. I had no idea where he acquired my number or my name, but he asked me if I was interested in talking to him about starting an AEPi colony in Claremont.

At first, I was skeptical. I had zero intentions of joining a fraternity, and the Claremont Colleges had no Greek life. In fact, the Claremont community is vehemently against Greek life, given its nefarious reputation at the hands of people who abused the perks of it. I had those same conceptions of Greek life, but I decided to have a conversation about AEPi with their Educational Leadership Consultant for the Western region.

At that time, Israeli Apartheid Week occurred a week or two before, I was becoming more involved in Chabad, and I was to be appointed as the incoming President of CSI. I recognized that getting involved in AEPi would only contribute to my proactive involvement in the Jewish and pro-Israel communities. So I told the consultant about my commitments to them and how I view the future of Jewish life on campus. I believed then, and I still believe, that a unified Jewish community would increase Jewish pride on campus and project formidable resistance against anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism. I said that if AEPi will give me an opportunity to ensure that mission, then I would be on board.

Not long afterward, I got a call saying that I was selected to be a Founding Father of the new colony of Alpa Epsilon Pi at the Claremont Colleges.

What followed was a five-week period of meetings, of workshops, and of programming with fellow Jewish men in the consortium, most of whom I never met until the night we made our oath to the fraternity. In those weeks, I forged friendships that transformed into unbreakable fraternal bonds in a period of weeks. What made the process surreal was the night of our initiation. It was Erev Yom HaShoah, April 27th, where Israelis and millions of American Jews commemorate the Holocaust. It was that night where I made a commitment to uphold Jewish values, maintain my Jewish identity, and to stand up for the Jewish people for the rest of my life.

Since then, the Claremont AEPi brothers experienced an exceptional amount of success, yet also handful of challenges. When one of our brothers had his Israeli flag stolen and his mezuzah ripped off his doorpost, the brotherhood responded by placing 30 more mezuzot around the Claremont Colleges. The rationale: If one person has the audacity to steal one mezuzah off our doorposts, then how would they feel about taking down thirty? In an act of unapologetic pride for our identity, our heritage, and our culture, we responded to darkness by bringing in the light. In addition, we held a candlelight vigil following the Har Nof massacre, where our Chabad rabbi gave a powerful speech that called on us to respond in a similar manner. It was in those two moments where I never felt prouder to be a Jew, and it was with my AEPi brothers.

But AEPi also had a personal effect on me. When I knew that I had a brotherhood that would support me, I worked harder than ever before to stand up for Israel, for the Jewish community, and for Zionism. My brothers did not always agree with my beliefs, nor did they all attend the events my group hosted. But they never convinced me stop standing up for my convictions. That support meant the world to me, and it brought me to where I am today.

By the time that I graduated in May, I felt confident that I did my best and worked my hardest to benefit the pro-Israel and Jewish communities. To this day, I credit Alpha Epsilon Pi for giving me that strength to fight back against anti-Semites on campus and for projecting me to a stronger Jewish identity.

A new report emerged about AEPi that confirmed what I had already experienced. It says that Alpha Epsilon Pi “has a substantial impact in influencing alumni to be more engaged in Jewish life and more supportive of Israel at a time when many young Jews are shifting away their faith.” This makes sense to me, because each brother is constantly reminded that joining AEPi is a commitment for a lifetime. I hope to maintain that commitment for as long as my body and soul inhabit this world.

So whenever someone asks me what my best decision was in college, my answer is simple: I became a brother of the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity.

About the Author
Elliott Hamilton is a JD/MPH candidate at Boston College Law School and Tufts University School of Medicine. He was credited as a researcher in the 2016 film "Hate Spaces: The Politics of Intolerance on Campus."
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