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When the Going Gets Tough, Control What You Can with Sam Trepp '20


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  • Our Mission: This podcast aims to share leadership stories from our VMI Corps of Cadets and high-profile leaders who visit the Center for Leadership and Ethics (CLE) and VMI.
  • Your Hosts: Derek Pinkham, Conference Project Manager and Emily Coleman, Assistant Conference Planner
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On this remote podcast episode, we talked with Sam Trepp, VMI Class of 2020's class president. He discusses his unique leader journey which started with his initial decision to attend the University of Richmond. Remaining close to a buddy of his who was attending VMI, he decided to transfer to VMI sight-unseen and says it was the best decision he ever made. Said Trepp, it felt like home.
During his time at VMI, he experienced personal growth as a result of his experiences through the VMI system but is careful to say that the school's tagline 'No Ordinary College' doesn't mean that his path to graduation and leadership was better than the path others follow, but was a good fit for him. Hear more about his leadership journey as class president, the impact of mentors he met on post, and how he completed his First Class (senior) year. 
Our Center's mission is to enhance the VMI citizen-soldier journey with programming that educates, engages and inspires critical thinking, ethical decision-making, and leader development. The VMI Leader Journey podcast is an outreach program where our guests can share insights from their own leader's journey, and where VMI may have contributed to their personal growth. 

In this episode, we touched on the following leadership competencies taught in the mandatory course on leadership in organizations and addressed in the publication VMI Leader Journey Booklet: self-development, resiliency, mentoring, responding to ambiguity, responsibility, and responding to change.

Transcript for Episode: When the Going Gets Tough, Control What You Can with Sam Trepp '20

SAM TREPP ’20: what are you gonna do when the going gets tough and we always say we're not going to control things that we can’t control so those two things that I’ve said a million times it gets to the point where you say it enough and it doesn’t mean anything controlling things that you only that you can control and making the most of the situation I've heard that a thousand times and yet in the first couple of days of this news [COVID19 lockdown, closure of VMI in-person classes] I found myself dwelling and and not really being the person that I always said for others to be

DEREK PINKHAM: welcome to the VMAs Center for Leadership and Ethics leadership journey podcast

EMILY COLEMAN: this podcast aims to share leadership stories from our VMI Corps of Cadets and high-profile leaders who visit the Center for Leadership and Ethics and VMI post we're on this journey with you hey I'm Emily Coleman

PINKHAM: and I'm Derrick Pinkham we're your hosts of the podcast

COLEMAN: Sam Tripp is currently the first-class president studying international studies in Arabic he is sheltering in place at his home in Richmond Virginia

PINKHAM: he plans to teach English to underserved populations upon graduation in the podcast we discussed his journey to VMI- transferring from the University of Richmond (U of R) how he performs his duties as president of the outgoing class of 2020 and how the transition to distance learning has affected 

COLEMAN: we discussed an experience at VMI and how that has shaped his B's on leadership we spoke to Sam remotely from his home and without further delay we give you first-class president Sam Tripp okay we’re here with Sam Tripp Sam thank you so much for being with us virtually

TREPP: of course, thank you all for having me

COLEMAN: yeah this is a little bit different so we're gonna start off by having you tell us your origin story tell us where you're from and what led you to VMI 

TREPP: great so my name is Sam Trapp current first classman at VMI I've heard about the school for quite a while from my upbringing I’m from Richmond Virginia so a lot of my favorite teachers in middle school and high school were VMI grads and it's a very prevalent influence here in Richmond and so out of high school I actually was not considering VMI I thought about it earlier on and I was like I'm not crazy enough to do that so I actually spent a year yeah I spent a year at the University of Richmond out of high school and I had a really good buddy of mine who had graduated straight from a high  school was doing first year VMI going through the Ratline and I stayed in close contact with him and after being I guess dissatisfied and not really feeling quite at home at U of R I definitely knew that VMI would be the right switch to make and so I signed the papers without even going to post and my buddy John was like that's the best decision you ever made and sure enough it was so very very glad I made it

COLEMAN: that seems to be a running theme with us we've had a lot of people say that they have they signed the papers or committed or whatever before they've even seen campus yeah

PINKHAM: yeah, it's an interesting phenomenon and it's funny that that those folks perhaps are some prominent folks that make it to us I'm not I'm not sure how that works what that filter is but maybe we'll figure that out

COLEMAN: right 

TREPP: well sure that it my friend John Keefe he was the honor Corps president last year and so he obviously grew up in the system and it really flourished and he had nothing but good things to say about it after his first year

COLEMAN: right what have you got involved with a VMI since coming here are you in any leadership positions right now or have you been

TREPP: my main position is I’m the class president for class of 2020 this is my about third and a half year going on the position we're elected at the end of our fourth-class year and so that has been just an amazing blessing in my my time at VMI I've really enjoyed the opportunity there to to work with and serve my BRs in my class so it’s been it's been pretty awesome from the get-go you are the initial representative of your class to all entities within barracks and outside regarding to VMI the responsibilities start off manageable and and easier as you as you begin as a third classman you’re essentially just in charge of controlling your stoop and being that liaison to be ours too common on staff for the the first and second third classes and then as you move up I in the class system more responsibilities pile on the second-class year tackled ring figure with your vice-president historian and then you get introduced to the Board of Visitors the Alumni agencies all these sorts of sorts of entities and then first class your rolls around and that's really the the test that's is when 

PINKHAM: can I just stop you for a second can you can you for the uninitiated tell us what stoop means of course

TREPP: so in barracks our living situation is comprised four stoops in ascending order from highest to lowest class so first classmen who are the seniors they are living on first stoop which is the lowest and then you go up higher and higher until you reach fourth and fifth stoop and that is where the rats and then thereafter fourths live and reside so

PINKHAM: right

TREPP: barracks is a very special place to us members of the class system we love it it's so where we’d all of our art work and so it's been a cool cool journey down the stoops there

COLEMAN: tell us about moving through the Ratline and becoming a cadet and how that affected you or what it's taught you

TREPP: I think the Ratline does a great job in really first of all testing whether or not you chose VMI for the right reasons it'll definitely expose you from the get-go regardless of the type of mental or physical preparation you did for it and kind of after three years now of introspection and looking back on my time I think that VMI and the Ratline specifically does the very best job of stripping away those layers that all of us came into VMI with whether it's a little bit of ego with what you think you're capable of physically any sort of insecurities or things you're you know things are unsure about yourself it really strips all those away and allows for you to rather than then look inward only to yourself and rely on yourself to rely on others and and with that being said allow you to show what you can offer to others as well and reveal to to yourself who you’re truly are and what you're capable of

COLEMAN: right so it kind of puts you all on the same level

TREPP: yes that is done through physical means and you are able to see what you're able to do on a physical level but I think it is deeper than that I think it's about the emotional and moral intelligence you really that lies within you to connect with all these people around you and that's I think the special thing

PINKHAM: so, with your peers and dealing with your peers how does that work so so you're BRs you're in apposition of leadership how does that change how you interact with them

TREPP: it makes you definitely cognizant of the actions you're taking and being thrust into this position without really much experience to prepare you for it was a lot but the only thing you can really do is continue that the genuine nature that I guess led me to VMI and through the Ratline and for sure definitely experienced a lot of challenges and failures but throughout the entire time the level of of care and love I have for for my BRs as a whole in each of them individually is I think what makes any any mistake reconcilable and it's what drives all of us together and that's it's an interesting spot to be in as a peer leader it's very easy to be up in front of the rats and they've got all eyes and ears on you it definitely you definitely need to connect on a more real human level to your peers because they're going to call you on your on your BS and they should and they do and and they keep it real and that's why you got to keep it real all the time right so it's been cool 

PINKHAM: well it's a that's a great response I love that

COLEMAN: yeah so you learned to appreciate what the Ratline has taught you growing old older and getting through the Ratline you learn to appreciate the things that you gain from being all put on the same level 

TREPP: always and I think that I mean some of my fondest times memories at VMI were during the Ratline I think that's when it’s the most pure and raw experience you have there because you are in the middle of that stripping of the ego and stripping of your layers and whatever conceptions you have about yourself are and so unfortunately with everything else as you grow further from that it is you are susceptible to to gaining some of that stuff back on whether it be through a title through rank through just distance from others VMI always finds a way bring it back to that same baseline and that's what I think is so special about classes in general but I feel like our class has maintained specifically such a tight tight-knit sense of togetherness here throughout all four years

PINNKHAM: do you feel like you might have had an advantage having an extra year out of out of high school

TREPP: I think that did… any bit of time will allow for some maturation I got to experience what some may call the the ordinary college experience and that and that only grounded in me more so the fact that the VMI was the right place for me yeah any level of additional experience you may have whether I mean some of our BRs enlisted in the military for a while some also were transfer students some take gap years doing mission trips and things like that and I think any bit of life experience you can have is beneficial and just speaks to that togetherness that VMI has with all these different bits and pieces coming in and coming into one

PINKHAM: mmm neat

COLEMAN: it's really cool that you get to see the difference between a first-year at an ordinary college like you said and then first year at a military school

TREPP: definitely

COLEMAN: that must-have been like a world a difference

TREPP: it was and and I I don't miss it for a second I would I would pick that switch I made a million times over and I think we get caught up in in the slogan sometimes of no ordinary college and we kind of extrapolate from that maybe these additional meanings that that we need to be careful about because when I was at Richmond there's amazing incredible people there doing amazing things just like there are VMI right and and something I told the rats earlier this year was yeah you're not ordinary but that doesn't like make you or us any special any more special than anyone else it's it's a different path it's it's very raw it's very unique but I think not putting ourselves up on any sort of pedestal is is important to the fabric of what VMI is and what makes makes us special because if we talk about it then talk about the cool stuff that we do or what we're you know the things we go through then what why are we different than anyone else so I think it’s important remember that you can reach these these goals of togetherness and leadership through other venues but MI just does it in its own unique and effective way

COLEMAN: that's a really awesome sense of humility that you can gain from MI I guess

TREPP: definitely and to some that you really remember when you're at and so because you're told all the time but it's a good it's a good you get a daily dose of humble pie at VMI so it's it’s definitely good thing to remember

COLEMAN: Awesome so back to you being president how are you managing that virtually now that we’re in the middle of a pandemic it's

TREPP: it's very weird and and pretty unfortunate just because I know that this was the time I mean right when you get turned over into your summer class Dyke which is that the summer uniform everyone gets really excited to be out in the warm weather hanging out with their rats once once they've [broken] out and enjoying those last few weeks of graduation parties and things like that and that does hurt and it did hurt real really bad on the homestead of that news but we're doing things that are necessary to continue out the year and and I tried to frame this in a way to bean opportunity rather than then it then a setback because we talked to talk all the time about what are you gonna do when the going gets tough and we always say we're not going to control things that we can't control so those two things that I've said a million times it gets to the point where you say it enough and it doesn't mean anything controlling things that you only that you can control and making the most how the situation I've heard that a thousand times and yet the first couple of days of this news [COVID19 lockdown, VMI closing post] I found myself dwelling and and not really being the person that I always said for others to be and the first thing I thought I was and so after a couple days of that realization have to kind of switch it up and say gotta just take actions that we can so the two things that I think are most important now or for my BRs and myself we got to enjoy these last couple months as a class together as best we can and then we got to prep 2021 to take the reins along with the rest of the corps and so for the turnover preparation we've been doing a solid job with 21s leadership Dylan Stoltzfus he's the second class president he's been killing it on the receiving end of this training and advice we've had a lot of Zoom sessions we've had some some evaluations passed back past and forth and then for for our end for 20’s end it's our our only really responsibility as a whole was to enjoy this time together besides the additional votings for factatorian and awards and things like that and so what we did was we set up this weekly newsletter that we’ve sent out to try to supplement some of that fun barracks lifestyle and barracks humor called it the “The Quarantiner” because we're all stuck at home and so we have it's it's been fun and so we've got a little inbox set up quarantiner at mail dot com and and every week might be ours and I we've been sending stuff in there and whether it's like kind of a spoof satirical article about the quarantine memes memories positive outlooks on the situation we've had weekly things of those that I've been compiling and putting out there and send it out to the class and so it's I mean I'd be a liar if I said that makes up for this but what else can you do and and it's been it's been a relief in some of this chaos and I think hopefully it's been making people feel a bit more connected


PINKHAM: so, Sam what what are your plans after graduation are you going to be able to attend in in December

TREPP: I will yes sir yeah  thank goodness I'm really excited for that I'm also very thankful for for VMI this is something that nobody can and the appreciation and respect and support I've gotten from all levels I mean superintendent down have been incredible and I know everybody's doing what they can to make it right for us I really appreciate that definitely going to be there in December definitely gonna try to just make them as as high volume of event for our class as we can we’ll have a full have a class party we’ll have a ceremony and we'll we'll do what we can to to make up for it

PINKHAM: now are you commissioning

TREPP: I'm not

PINKHAM: upon graduating

TREPP: No sir so right I am going to I'm doing a two-year program I'm gonna be a middle school English teacher down in Mobile Alabama

COLEMAN: [gasp]

PINKHAM: awesome

TREPP: I'm pretty excited it's like it’s not Teach for America but it's a similar program and they kind of put fresh graduates into under-resourced areas to provide a little bit more educational support there and so I’m pumped 

PINKHAM: yeah great

TREPP: I mean hopefully hopefully we’ll get rolling down there in the fall and I can't get in my classroom and and have my students but I like like everything else just got to go with the flow and see what happen 

COLEMAN: that is awesome - what has VMI taught you so far in regards to your experience with leadership and especially being the class president

TREPP: I’m definitely lucky because kind of got thrust into that opportunity in that spot pretty early on so it's been a long journey throughout my time in this role and so how did the experience or had the pleasure to learn from so many different people at VMI a few names that pop into my head Sgt. 1st Class Bean he’s the commandant for the cadet government working in with him this year Colonel Foust last year's first class president Eli Facemeyer I mean you get you go through this journey and you just get to pick the brains of ofall these great leaders and different in their own regard but you can kind of see what works well for you and and what sticks out to you and was effective in your followership to them and so I think the biggest lesson that I've learned is that the importance of leaders to be a steady keel, level-headed, patient, calm driving force I think that and that’s for me personally I came into VMI and you see pictures of a leadership there is value to leading in the front and being vocal and being loud however there’s so much more of that and the the biggest mistakes that I've made in this role and I mean I guess that could be for life in general is when I've you know gotten on the roller coaster of emotions it's okay to ride the wave and and feel that you know emotion whether it’s up or down but not to make decisions when you're in that state and so I think being calm level-headed not letting the external forces rile you up has been I think something that I’m excited to take out into the world and try to share with others and and then the other thing is just the complete ownership of of your role and your people because no matter what the mission is I think that the people are innately the mission and just owning your tasks in developing them and getting them prepped up for success and and that's what I've seen a lot with Sgt. Beane this year I know I've definitely encountered people in my experience at VMI that have this level of ownership and others-oriented style but he's the person that I’ve seen firsthand and been able to really benefit from and so some of the stuff that I've learned from him I'll have forever and I'm really really grateful for it

PINKHAM: Awesome 


COLEMAN: so Sam what does leadership mean to you

TREPP: it’s important as I look back at Rat Trepp I see a very naive guy who thought looking at the guy who though the knew all the answers and thought he had it all figured out and so I expect and I hope to look back at First Classman Trepp and see the same thing four years down the road because I think leadership you got to be open to changing your your outlook on things open to experience whether it's from someone higher or lower in your in your position being open to development of yourself and then kind of like I mentioned before we're talking about like your organization's mission and your organization's people I think one thing I think working through and for your people whether it be peer, superior, subordinate... I think that you gotta always live through them and let that take the priority

COLEMAN: awesome well thank you so much Sam thanks thanks so much for getting on the call with us

TREPP: no thank y'all thank you all big-time I really appreciate it

COLEMAN: the Center for Leadership and Ethics would like to thank the following cadet Caleb Minus class of 20 for the intro and backing music find more of his musical stylings on his Instagram page at mynus official that's at m-y-n-u-s official Colonel David Gray United States Army retired director of the VMI Center for Leadership and Ethics and of course as always our podcast guests

PINKHAM: to find this podcast and other CLE programming information on the be my Center for Leadership and ethics website and try our YouTube channel follow the VMI Center for Leadership and Ethics on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram accounts see you next episode of the journey thanks for tuning in

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