Wednesday, September 22, 2010

How I Love Those Alpha Gams

The week before last, I participated in Truman State University's Panhellenic Formal Recruitment for the fifteenth time. Though most of these years I have played the role of advisor, I have also been a helpful local alumna, a member of Panhellenic Council, a sorority member, and (originally) an unaffiliated student looking for an organization to join. By this time, one might think that I would be tired of standing in a line, wearing a matching outfit, chanting songs while waiting for the doors to open and the herd of potential new members to file in, but the truth is that I just am not. I heard someone say this year that there are few organizations where a person can expect the above scenario to take place, and those are mostly convents, the military, cults, and sororities. Despite all its weirdness, I have to admit that I love sorority recruitment. I think the fact that I joined Alpha Gamma Delta at Truman soon after it was founded makes me feel extra invested in ensuring it continues long into the future through recruitment of quality members. This post originated as a simple update for alumnae of the sorority; a way to report back to all the people who donated this year all the wonderful success we had. But, alas, I am a long-winded person, and always one for a story, and as I thought about what to write it seemed that there's a lot more that needed to be said.

The thing is, I regularly run into friends and family who (with varying degrees of directness) argue that, as a grown woman with a family and a church and a job, my continued participation in sorority life as an advisor represents a gigantic waste of time. And I have to admit that, when I'm forced to explain out loud that, for instance, I'm meeting with someone to conference about the importance of wearing pants or of not throwing beer cans at others, it does sound kind of frivolous. Many people are not into the whole matching-outfit thing, and on a lot of levels I get that. But the reality is that there are a lot more instances where I'm meeting to encourage someone to become a better leader by being more considerate or more assertive, to teach them how to plan a large event while staying on budget, to model time management or accountability or responsibility to others. So many college students are standing at the crossroads between childhood and maturity; figuring out who they are, experiencing adult freedoms and relationships, and learning work ethic and job skills... To me, it's hard to see how an investment toward college student development is ever wasted.

As a student, I gained so much from all the organizations I joined, especially my sorority. I am a Christian today because my sister Melanie Duran Kleimola cajoled me to a Bible study, encouraged me to stop blaming Jesus for the faults of his followers, and started me on a path to work out my faith. My sister-daughter Madeline Herrmann Nash was present at my wedding, the births of both my children, and everything in between. As adults, Kyle and I have tried to keep in mind those groups that gave us a lot when we were too poor and too busy with school to return the favor. If I were to pay back all that I owe to AGD, even just for my continued friendships with Melanie and Madeline, I would be advising for a long time.

My favorite Alpha Gam song is one called Today, and my favorite line says “...a million tomorrows shall all pass away, ere I forget all the joy that is mine today.” Every time I sing it, I think of all the “todays” that I have sung it before, and all the joy that has been mine over the years. Some of it was while I was in college: screaming the lyrics to Karma Chameleon at a date party, packed together so tightly with my 100 closest friends that I couldn't move; living in Brewer Hall and proving once and for all that you can fit three women and a box of Cheez-its in a twin-sized bed. Some of it was on days when I didn't expect any joy to be mine: when my college boyfriend was horribly ill and went home for the semester, and my pledge class all pitched in to buy me a phone card then showed up together to deliver it to my apartment; when our sister Kelin died of cancer before finishing grad school, and we all sat in Applebee's for hours after the funeral, talking and laughing and telling stories about her. Lots of it, though, has been as an advisor: all the girls who told me I was a cute pregnant lady or that my kids are adorable; the hundreds of personalities and jokes that have made me laugh and laugh over the years; and all the times I started writing a simple letter of recommendation and realized what an awesome person I knew. I have a lot of time to go before a million tomorrows pass away. A million's a lot.

Finally, it really should go without saying that any group with a secret handshake (and knock, and password, etc.) is kind of fun to be a part of. This summer at Alpha Gamma Delta's International Convention Madeline and I were given awards for our years of service as advisors, and there was a super-cool secret ceremony that went along with that, too.

Though I have friends who would say that in college they were too intellectual or too mature or too religious to spend their time on Greek life, I can't deny that I was a part of it, that it's where I come from, and that I really loved it. At that convention this summer there was a woman who was recognized for attending twenty-six times (on a biannual basis). As the room applauded her I couldn't help but think that there is something to be said for dedication like that, for being willing to stick with something her whole life, even as that kind of commitment becomes increasingly rare in our culture. For those of you reading this who are AGD alumnae (or any other organization's alumni), I would strongly encourage you to volunteer as advisors or just as helpful alum to your local chapter. It really is worth your time and effort.

Okay, so enough of that. Those of you who are alumnae surely want to know about how things went, and those of you who aren't... well, you can stop reading now or can indulge some bragging and pictures. This summer I wrote to many of our alumnae talking about how other groups on our campus have really been stepping up their recruitment efforts, and how last fall we had lower numbers than usual as we lagged behind that trend. Many sisters responded to my letter with donations of things the chapter can use for recruitment and beyond, like tablecloths and centerpieces and banners and their time.

I am happy to report that all of your support and the members' hard work paid off! We had some of the best return rates we've had in a long time for all the parties, and the best ever for the preference round (100 women!). Our return rates were so unprecedented that we had to run out for more food and flowers before preference party (a good problem to have)! In the end, quota was 36, and we matched the full quota through bid matching, plus an extra 7 quota additions. This put us way ahead of all the other groups, the next-most-successful of which matched only 37 members. As the advisor for a group whose recruitment success is almost always overshadowed by the other organizations', it felt really good to walk out of that bid matching session.

Here are some pictures:

Open had a zebra-print theme with red, yellow, and green accents. Those of you who contributed to the purchase of black tablecloths saved us the cost of rental this year and for many years to come.

Also of note are the fabulous easels, which Ashley Coleman Barton spent hours spray-painting in my front yard during polish (work) week.

Here are some pictures of the preference party and the centerpieces in action. We did receive exactly the number we had asked for, and everything looked gorgeous.

Here is a picture of the chapter on bid day, just before yell-in. Note the snazzy new banner, courtesy of Ashley Hoffman.

And last, but not least, are the beautiful new members!

Thanks again to everyone who wrote, called, donated, came to polish week, or came to recruitment. The chapter is very appreciative, and very excited about the fall semester. Recruitment was, as someone I know likes to say, the most fun we could have had with our clothes on.

Friday, September 17, 2010


Last night, as I was falling asleep, I realized I had no real obligations on the agenda for today. This kind of day is a very rare occurrence for me, and has been especially absent lately. At the time, I told myself that this would give me the opportunity to do things from my "backup to-do list" (the one that always lives in the back of my mind) like take the kids to the park, do some grading, or write on this blog about some of the things that have been keeping me too busy to post lately. I thought I might make some granola or a special dinner or dessert, or get ahead in my lecture planning. Ooh! Maybe I could clean the garage! Or have a nice run! What a wonderful feeling of accomplishment that would bring!

But this morning when I woke up, none of those things happened. Our house was messy; we've all been too busy to really do a good job of picking up after ourselves. We had loads of laundry hanging out in piles downstairs. It felt icky and chaotic here, and I finally reached the end of my very long willingness to keep going and going and going.

And so today I have done nothing of note. The kids watched a video this morning and then drew on the driveway with chalk. We didn't go anywhere, shop for anything, or do anything special. I did not do any exercise. I didn't make a fancy lunch, and I'm not planning a special dinner. The most accurate term for what I've done today is probably "puttering" around the house. Both the kids fell asleep during rest time this afternoon (which is like the Holy Grail of potential mommy productivity), but I talked to Maureen on the phone and watched some clips of The Daily Show on the internet. I have been leisurely working my way through our laundry and the stacks of mail and kids' drawings that are sitting all over our house.

And I must say: it feels really good. Unusually so. Mostly because I am a person who is always busy, and is prone to fill up these kinds of free days or weekends. I can always think of some extra project that could be done or some fun adventure I could have with the kids. Recently, though, I read something my friend Jennie wrote, about that feeling of always needing to be busy. She talked about what lies we tell ourselves when we believe that we can really "get ahead." Like if I just clean the house thoroughly enough, or plan out my lectures for the rest of the semester, or bolster the kids with lots of extra attention, that everything will be perfect and I will finally be able to rest. That next week will be an easy week. Her conclusion was that there is never an easy week, and that we waste our lives wishing for one.

It would be great to pretend that I thought of all this at the beginning of the day and made a conscious choice to rest today, but the reality is that I just hit a wall, and only see the benefit of our inactivity in hindsight.

Much has been afoot at the Sterup household lately. I have lots of things I could write about; there is lots of news to share. Maybe tomorrow. For now I am just going to tell myself that one little post is enough.