As a college student at The Ohio State University, Paul Harris ’98 was pretty set on becoming a lawyer. He was majoring in English and, thanks to an abundance of AP credits from his time at Saint Ignatius, he was on track to graduate in three years.
But before he took the big step of studying for the LSAT, applying for law school, and enrolling somewhere for more advanced degrees, he chose to press pause and become an Alumni Volunteer.
“I knew I was going to go to law school, but I wanted to make sure it’s what I wanted to do. And it gave me time to study for the LSAT,” he says.
The Alumni Discernment and Volunteer Program has been providing young alumni with a year of service, discernment, community, professional development, and other perks for over two decades. Typically, AVs will be recent college graduates, or those only a couple years into their careers.
Harris says he had a great experience. John Gill '97, who currently oversees the ADVP, served as an Alumni Volunteer the same year as Harris. At that time, Harris's responsibilities included assisting then-Principal Karl Ertle ’79 with the cura personalis program, helping students who needed extra tutoring and attention. He spent time throughout the school day providing help in different subjects and ran an after-school program in the afternoons.
“It was a great year to be at the school,” Harris says. “I took the time to think about what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, to ask if I really wanted to go into law. It was nice to have a breather, to study for the LSAT. I’m glad I did it.”
In addition to working with Ertle and the students, Harris says he enjoyed spending time in fellowship with the Jesuits—a piece of the program that continues to this day. Alumni Volunteers are invited to the Jesuit Residence for Mass, cocktails, and dinner with the priests and brothers.
Another perk of the program that continues is free living accommodations in a house in the thriving Ohio City neighborhood. For Harris, his year as an adult on campus also included the thrill of watching the 2001 football state championship.
After his AV year, Harris attended the University of Notre Dame for law school. He has spent the past 16 years as a litigator at Ulmer and Berne LLP.
“I enjoy it. It’s a lot of work,” he says. “That’s why it’s good to take a year of service. I worked hard at Ignatius and in undergrad but then had a breather. It was the last year where I really got to take a deep breath. We were given access to the school; we’d go work out, I’d go run on the track. Having access to that was awesome, too.”
Now a dad with three kids, Harris realizes that he was still learning from the Jesuits during his Alumni Volunteer year.
“I’ve always taken that with me—that holistic approach to life, how to handle my career and stay balanced,” he says. “I’ve kept a general approach to what I do. I believe in that multifaceted approach to things, and I really credit the Jesuits for that.”
His advice for young Saint Ignatius alumni who are figuring out the first steps to their careers is to seriously consider the ADVP, which he describes like a sabbatical after college.
“If you feel like you can benefit from a quick slowdown but a good, robust experience, I do think it’s important,” he says. “It’s an opportunity that I would encourage anybody to take.”