What does bother me are those who say that being in a sorority is something they "did" while in college. Why the past tense? Far too many who pledged and vowed to be a sister or brother for life and who "left" "dropped out" or ceased to be interested as an alumnae once they graduated. Many of those who were never in a fraternity of any kind rely on stereotypes and movies and bad press on instances of hazing or alcohol abuse without seeing the forest for the trees. Granted it is not for everyone and those who did have a negative experience certainly are smart to walk away from something not good for them. For those who never went to college or didn't join for various reasons may find an opportunity to join as an alum initiate or to join other fraternal organizations such as Knights of Columbus, Junior League or Women's clubs or the Masons. My sorority even has alumnae initiate program that I was proud to carry on the tradition with so many awesome friends over the years. It is a decision well worth pondering.
I want to share how I met my sorority and how I met my husband.... both lifelong commitments that I am incredibly devoted to still today... 20 years later. Certainly some added acknowledgements being shared here too that are so well deserved but don't even scratch the surface of the friendships I've made along the way.
I was sure I wanted to join a sorority even while I was in high school... watching movies and tv shows and reading in books about the fun and closeness they all had. I am pretty sure that those Sweet Valley High books my friends and I read throughout the 80s lent to my desire for a close group of women I could call sisters since I had none of my own- growing up with only three older brothers.
|Rollins College 1992|
|Rollins College Campus Photos from google|
When I began orientation at Florida Atlantic University in August 1993 I was quite a bit bummed out to say the least. Gone were the ivy colored walls, the adorable quaint classrooms of one of the oldest colleges in Florida..... gone were the friends I had made and the ornate Annie Russell theater I got to be in the musical Candide in.... gone were the brick paved sidewalks and beautiful Lake Virginia and Fox Day and ohhh so many great places and people. Replaced with concrete and a 60s style campus that was in no way my first choice.... this was not looking good at all to me and I was starting to debate my decision and consider my options elsewhere as I walked the campus.
And by the way, over the years boy did the campus change and grow and become absolutely beautiful...... hosting Presidential debates and world leaders, amazing professors and incredible programs.... not to mention a bowl winning football team on top of various other accolades. Here are some current day shots that make me feel better about the concrete school that turned into paradise of sorts now down in Boca Raton, Fl.
So, back to August 1993.... a mere twenty years ago this summer......
My orientation was full of walking those cold concrete breezeways and running into old high school friends and picking my major and finding myself in a sea of clubs hosting tables in the hall looking for perspective new members. When I first spied the penguins on the table I was hooked..... could it be that the mascot and animal I had already a growing collection of.... the one that my oldest brother had also loved and therefore it was to be my favorite too..... There it was- the cute plush penguins and standing behind that table were the words Theta Phi Alpha. And the irony continued..... here was my friend Melanie wearing those TPA letters smiling back at me.... Melanie had been in my brothers class just ahead of mine throughout middle and high school and we both recognized each other right away. There was a glimmer of hope among the "Burrowing Owls" of Florida Atlantic. The coincidences did not end there..... their Patron was St. Catherine of Siena whom I had been named after.... they were originally founded as a sorority for Catholic women in 1912 and were now open to all denominations... personally I was raised as a Catholic and although I no longer follow it 'religiously' the irony was not lost on me and my spirituality remains strong today as St. Catherine and Saint Kateri continue to guide me... but that is a post for another day......
|BN sisters in the breezeway helping promote TPA|
|My roomies: Leslie (AZD), Kristen, Myself and Melissa (TPA)|
Later on when everyone had left and my new roomies were hanging around chatting up about the evening, one of them asked us all which guy we thought was cute....we all found ourselves "picking" one we liked the best. I quickly laid dibs on Robert :) But you have a boyfriend!!! "Yes... but I am not married and I can still find someone else's personality attractive," I said, and thought about how tough it may be for me to be in school 40 minutes away from the guy I had been with the past year and what the future would hold for us. Within a week my boyfriend Jim and I parted our separate ways and albeit difficult at times we have stayed friends and from a distance watched each other's lives and relationships play out online and via mutual friends. I wish him all of the love within me and am always so glad when I see him happy......
So, we went through rush and my roommate and one of our suitemates choose Theta Phi Alpha and Theta Phi Alpha chose us. It was an interesting experience. There were ups and downs during my time as a pledge sister- nothing at all like the movies and no horrible hazing or anything like that. We had moments where we definitely felt badly and as a group had to defend each other or take the outcomes of the actions of a few as a team but again nothing that didn't make us closer and build a bond that friendships I had held earlier in life just didn't come close to.
|The Delta Pledge class of Beta Nu at FAU, Fall 1993|
Robert was fast becoming a friend of mine and his fraternity, Beta Theta Pi became the group of guys I gravitated towards as they were fun, funny, honest, loyal, gentlemen and definitely had a sense of down to earthiness that appealed to me. When I went through rush Robert refused to tell me which group he thought what of and wanted me to make my own decisions. His integrity and ability to flash his smile when I searched for hints was touching to me. One day when I hinted that I thought I was ready to start dating again after my breakup, "Well I know one thing for sure, any guy that ends up as 'the rebound' guy will miss out... it's the long term guy after that who will win in this with you." I didn't know whether to be disappointed or determined or just plain impressed. I swallowed that thought he gave me and moved on.... turns out there never was a rebound guy. There never was any other guy, I just didn't know it yet.
|Robert & Cathy at a luau social in 1994|
Boy did it drive my friends and his fraternity brothers crazy.... us being "friends" and not "going out-going out". For 3 months Robert and I hung out all the time, getting to know each other like the best of friends. When my roommate and all our friends went out Clubbing on Wednesdays we would go get a 12 pack of beer and sit around my room or somewhere on campus and just get to know each other- learned everything about each other's past, family, relationships, you name it. It was the single best decision in the world I have probably ever made was to become best friends first......
|The Zeta Delta Chapter of Beta Theta Pi at FAU|
|Our Beta Nu Chapter of Theta Phi Alpha at FAU|
Finally on a chilly October night after a fantastic party at our campus rathskeller bar hanging out with old and new friends Robert walked me back to my dorm and the first kiss happened. I don't think either one of us were expecting it..... Things kind of fell into place after that kiss and we started sitting closer at events, holding hands and laughing intimately - it was finally apparent to everyone that what they had thought was meant to be all along was finally official. We actually took our relationship quite slowly and were "dating" throughout the holidays and into the spring. It was incredible to know everything about each other without judgement before we started dating. Our good friends understood us and certainly got many chuckles out of watching us debate against each other in Student Government.
I particularly look back with fondness when I think about the times I was in tears after a sorority meeting or when something didn't go the way I thought it should.... as a pledge sister I was honestly ready to walk away one evening and Robert told me I just didn't "get it" yet and to wait it out and eventually everything would make sense to me. I did not believe him one cents worth but lo and behold he was right. (Be sure to see the video I made that I attached to the bottom of this blog post)
My time as a collegian was spent achieving honors status in my classes and adding two minors to my degree, I truly enjoyed my criminal justice and political science classes. I began holding "offices" in my sorority such as song chair, ritual chair, Secretary and eventually Vice President. I was extremely involved in other campus activities such as Student Government and the Criminal Justice Club and the College Democrats (which led me to getting to meet the President and Vice President of the U.S.A.- see my celebrity blog post for more about that....) Over the years my bonds with my sisters grew stronger.... going through the things "kids" in the early twenties go through and helping each other cope with life. It was during this time that my mom's cancer left, came back and left again...... sisters were going through their own dramas and real life scary times. I won't get into details but suffice it to say, we saw it all...you name it and it happened to someone I knew and therefore happened to all of us. Robert and I had our share of getting along and not getting along.... but we never dated anyone else during all that time and eventually we got engaged. We decided to wait to get married until after I graduated so we could focus on the right priorities and that was a pretty smart decision in retrospect. Those 5 years of dating were very helpful to our communication skills and getting to know each other so well before getting married & moving in together.
|Theta Phi Crush Party circa 1994|
|Betas serenading me at a party circa 1994|
It was a fun time during those 4 years at FAU and I will cherish them until the day I die. The most rewarding times with my sisters and of course with my soon-to-be-husband were yet to come though..... the dearest memories were made long after those 4 years at college.
|Debbie Hoekzema Lipsccomb's wedding|
|Loni Stone Boyum's Wedding|
|Krysti Mazzeo Payne's Wedding|
|Cathy Sniegocki Billoni's Wedding|
And that is a great lead in to this section about gratitude..... to my roommates for inviting over the guys that first night of college and introducing me to Robert- the love of my life..... For my big sister Holly - thank you for EVERY thing over the years- a sister IS a forever friend..... Thank you to my little sisters Patty, Nicole, Trish - you are such cool family to have.... and my adopted littles as the Beta pledge class of the reinstated Beta Upsilon Chapter at Saint Leo when I was their Colony Advisor especially our 2 incredible leaders who got it all re-started - Nikki and Rachelle- you are an inspiration to me.... and I love you both like real blood sisters.
|Rachelle, Cathy and Nikki when they were pledge sisters at BY|
|The Beta Upsilon Chapter at Saint Leo reinstated after two long years of hard work, I loved being your Advisor!|
To my fellow Grand Council members for the 2006-2008 term and 2008-2012 terms - for inspiring me and working along with me to make TPA an even more incredible National Fraternity. Serving as our very first National Vice President of Alumnae was such an honor and I learned so much and hope I grew the fraternity in a new way - it was a lifetime experience that I will always remember fondly.
-Mari Ann, Kathy, Dianne, Allison, Jennifer, Karen, Amy, Michelle and Laura.
|Being installed on Grand Council 2006|
|Being installed again on Grand Council in 2008|
To my best friends throughout my young alumnae years and the women with whom I learned to drink wine with and deal with husbands with (heck and we all first got married within the same few years too, come to think of it) and learned about being a grown up with - Debbie, Loni and Krysti... a friendship that knows no end....
To Kristin Henkenious for being a great mentor as I learned how to be on Grand Council and to become the NVPA and to Emily for allowing us to create the first NES and for Jeanne Ross for being a great inspiration to me when I became National Song Chair and started our First National Chorus.....
Thanks to Becky McLaren for helping start the Beta Nu chapter and being an advisor and mentor and friend for many years. And thanks to some of the many additional women who lead today who work so hard behind the scenes and deserve so much more recognition but refuse to take it- you truly are the definition of lifelong commitment... so many to name but particularly Kathy Sullivan, Leslie Trehant, Christine O'Brien and I could on and on and on..... to all those who continue to inspire with your lifelong commitments both young and old - thank you!
|Krysti and I with Miss Ruth and Miss Jean, precious memories|
And last but not least to my fellow convention roomies and awesome friends and sisters from BN who I am cherishing new amazing milestones and memories with (And yes some are repetitive but that's how I roll)... my big sis, my grandma and my cousin.... Krysti, Erika and Holly..... thank you for being my sisters and my friend yesterday, today and tomorrow.
|Erika, Holly, Krysti and I sitting on the very steps our Founders' did at the old house in Ann Arbor, Michigan when we attended the Centennial Celebration Convention in 2012|
|Our Centennial Celebration of 100 years in Ann Arbor Michigan 2012|
|Holly (Grits), Cathy ( Vice), and Kristy (Maz) in Ann Arbor|
|A beautiful needlepoint my big sis Holly made me|
As current President of my local Alumnae Association and as the National Business Continuity Coordinator for my sorority, I see a lot of fresh motivated faces ready to pitch in and I see a lot of tired and unappreciated souls who need the motivation and friendship to bring them back on board..... encouragement and appreciation are the tools that will help a lost lamb find her way home.
|Central Florida Alumnae Association celebrating Founders' Day 2013|
Think about the lifetime commitments you have made, and maybe the ones you may have walked away from. Is it time to go back, even if just to say hello to one person you used to be connected closely with... or I'm sorry to someone you may have hurt years ago..... or to check in on someone and just see how they are doing? If you love something, set it free, if it was meant to be it will come back to you at the right time in the right place.
And if you still say you WERE in a sorority/fraternity and don't say I am still IN one, then take a look at this video my sister Krysti and I made ... maybe it will bring you back home too........
Just like my husband-to-be told me..... "Someday it will all make sense, and you will get IT."
20 years together 15 years married.....a life time of commitment.
I love you Bobert!