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Leader of Women
By Terry Tush
When Peyton Hillery walks through the doors of the Kappa Alpha Theta house she sees a new opportunity each and every day. As president of the Theta chapter on the Oklahoma State University campus, she is having a profound impact on the sisterhood of around 200 women.
Elected a year ago, the senior accounting major has led the sorority since January, and the past 10 months have been one of the best experiences of her life.
“Being the president of Theta has been really fun and it’s been really challenging,” said Hillery, whose one-year term expires in December. “I’ve learned so much about leadership and my own abilities, and about delegating. It’s been awesome to get to know the younger girls in Theta, and I don’t think I would have had the opportunity to meet them had I not been in this position.
“Some of my best friends have come through being on the exec team and being on cabinet. I’ve just learned so much and I know that I will always remember this experience and the things that came out of it.”
Several Theta sisters point to Hillery’s leadership as an important reason the 200 women have grown as close as they have in the past 11 months.
“I can’t pinpoint one big thing that I can tell but on the whole her presidency has been overwhelmingly a great thing for Theta,” said Dylan Fix, who was recruited to Theta by Hillery and is her little sister in the sorority. “She’s a very approachable person, which is hard to do sometimes when you’re in that position, so I think everyone as a whole, freshmen through seniors, are comfortable going to her, and I think that’s what has helped us the most. I think the sense of community that she brought to Theta has been her biggest contribution.”
Annie Vanderburg was in the same Theta pledge class as Hillery, and the pair soon became best friends through their sorority and also through the McKnight Scholars Leadership Program.
“I am pretty biased as her best friend, but I think Peyton has done an amazing job as president,” said the senior from Lubbock, Texas. “I mentioned earlier that as a leader she is also able to be friends with everyone in the chapter, and being that for around 200 women is a difficult task in itself and somehow she manages to do it. I can confidently say that she has every member’s respect and trust, and that’s something that’s very hard to do and she does it very well.”
Others, in addition to her sorority sisters, have noticed the impact she’s had since arriving as a freshman four years ago.
“Even though I’ve only known Peyton for less than two years, I am certain her impact began the day she joined,” said Kelsi Jones, who as a member of the Theta Advisory Board worked closely with her. “She has taken on leadership roles from the very beginning – first serving as finance assistant before becoming chief financial officer, now President.
“And, with each of these roles her leadership skills continue to blossom. She understands that she is representing not only herself, but also the organization she is a part of and Oklahoma State University as a whole. And she holds herself and all members of Kappa Alpha Theta to the highest standard as a result. Peyton’s attitude and the way she carries herself has influenced her peers to do the same. She’s not afraid to be firm when the situation calls for it, but is also able to relate and empathize with everyone she encounters.
“Peyton has a strong sense of ethics, integrity. She’s always looking for better, more effective ways to get things done, but, she also shows humility, holding herself accountable. I think this is why she’s been so likeable and successful as president. She doesn’t think of herself as better or more important than any one member. All of these things rub off on those around her, improving the culture and morale of the chapter as a whole.”
Despite Hillery’s parents (Lynda and Brent) both earning degrees from Oklahoma State, it was looking like she would not follow in their footsteps. She was looking forward to attending Texas A&M following her graduation from Wichita Falls High School in Texas, and had already found a roommate, selected a dorm room and had everything in place to make the five-hour trip to College Station.
“I had been able to visit Oklahoma State a couple of times. When I took my first official (visit), toured here for Honors Day in the fall of my senior year, I really fell in love with it for myself, and not just because my parents went here,” said Hillery, one of five students who agreed in 2015 to participate in the ‘I Am Building’ project, which has followed them throughout their careers as business students. The project has shown the life of the five as they grew and developed as both students and individuals, similar to the new Business Building rising during that same time from a dream into an impressive new structure that opened in January.
In the spring of 2015, Ken Eastman, dean of the Spears School, received a telephone call from Dr. William S. Spears encouraging him to reach out to Peyton. Spears and Brent Hillery are friends and business acquaintances, and Spears knew that Peyton was the type of student that OSU needed.
“Later in my senior year, Dean Eastman actually called me,” said Peyton, who was selected a Spears Scholar Leader and also named a McKnight Scholar (a scholarship given to qualifying students from outside of Oklahoma). “It was just like the timing of it was all falling into place, and I just thought, how could I ever pass up going to Oklahoma State when I have so many opportunities?”
Peyton surprised her parents and little brother, Braden, who followed her to OSU and is now a freshman studying agriculture economics.
“They thought for sure I was going to A&M,” she said. “I don’t think they were wanting to get their hopes up very much that I was going to go here. But I ended up getting OSU stuff for my mom, dad and brother and wrapping it all up, and I just gave it to them on a random day. They opened it and they were like, ‘Oh my god, you’re actually going there.’
“OSU has grown me in ways I would have never imagined, from getting to serve as vice president of finance for CowboyThon and just learning more about my passions, non-profits, and getting to serve as Theta’s president and getting to learn so much about leadership and volunteering my time. From just getting to be involved on campus and learning so much about OSU, it’s grown me so much. I feel like I’ve grown into a more confident person, into a more giving person with my time and hopefully in the future with my resources.”
Her impact upon arriving in Stillwater has reached more people than she could have ever imagined.
“I would describe Peyton as the most driven person that I have ever met,” Vanderburg said. “She truly pushes me out of my comfort zone, without even trying. I watch her do the things she does, she’s president of our sorority, and just the way that she leads people is just truly amazing. She does it so effortlessly and she does it in a way that she can be a friend at the same time. I think that’s very important in a leader, so I would describe her as being a driven leader.”
Fix said, “Peyton might be one of the most laid-back people I know but also the most driven and hard-working person I know. She has a goal in mind always, and she’s a great leader wherever she is. When we’re in a room together, everyone gravitates toward Peyton. She’s very loving but also very funny. She can make a room laugh.”
Jones agrees with the two Theta members.
“Truthfully, as cliché as it sounds, the future holds whatever Peyton hopes it will,” said Jones, assistant director of donor programs at the OSU Foundation. “All of the experience she has gained in leadership roles across campus during her time at OSU has provided her a launching pad to succeed in every aspect of her life moving forward. She has set herself up to set herself apart from others as she enters the real world. And, as one of her biggest fans, I’m excited to have a front row seat to watch it play out.”
Four short years after arriving as a freshman, she’s preparing for a spring internship with KPMG in Oklahoma City and will be graduating with her bachelor’s degree in accounting in May. Hillery is applying to grad school and is targeting OSU’s master’s in accounting program.
“I’m applying to a couple of other grad programs but I’m pretty sure I’m going to stay here,” she said. “This is home. I’m not ready to be done with Stillwater yet.”