Alpha Chi Omega - Starting Conversations

The official blog of Alpha Chi Omega
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Watching a seed grow…

Margaret-Maxwell-cropBy: Margaret Maxwell
Beta Lambda, University of Arizona

As a (then) fairly young chapter advisor for Beta Lambda chapter at the University of Arizona, new member Holly Yarger didn’t cross my radar very much—I guess which meant she wasn’t one of the members who needed a lot of attention. (Chapter advisors everywhere know how grateful we were for those members.)

Holly’s Greek participation soon turned to Panhellenic activities, culminating in becoming the University of Arizona Panhellenic president. Where, as Panhellenic president during a fall recruitment, she had occasion to vigorously “scold” me for allowing a preference party note to escape the house with a potential new member. When I recount this story, Holly tends to pretend she doesn’t recall that conversation.

After leaving school, Holly married her college beau, Scott Polston, a Kappa Sigma brother. In 1992, she began Garment Graphics, a small business providing embroidered uniforms for local parochial schools in a small retail space, while her husband Scott worked in the car sales industry. During this time, Holly and Scott added Ryan and Meagan to their family.

Holly’s business grew, and soon required additional space, as she added advertising items and silk screening to her catalog of business items. Now in a much larger location, Holly was able to stretch to offer embroidered items to a much larger audience, including many University of Arizona departments, and specialty items for local groups. After leaving car sales, Scott has joined the business which employs 15. Garment Graphics has successfully bid on many large University of Arizona orders, including t-shirts for the student’s “Zona Zoo,” ESPN’s Game Day and the Wildcat Club favors, for example. (An example of all the Garment Graphics offerings may be seen at www.garmentgraphics.net .)

During these years, Holly and Scott watched Ryan go off to and graduate from West Point and begin medical school and daughter Meagan head off to Hillsdale College in Michigan.

In spite of this busy schedule, Holly agreed to be the chapter advisor for Beta Lambda following the recent re-colonization, which was extremely successful. Beta Lambda chapter is now among the larger Panhellenic chapters and on October 17th, will have 100 new initiates.

It has been a privilege to watch Holly mature into a savvy business woman and as the loyal Alpha Chi she is today.

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Chasing the Wildest Dreams

Katie_Sherrill_webBy: Katie Sherrill
Alpha, DePauw University

“I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me.” – Cheryl Strayed

I recently read the book Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, where a true real, strong woman hiked the Pacific Crest Trail alone in the late ‘90s. For those of you who don’t know, the Pacific Crest Trail is 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon and Washington. Strayed embarked on her journey with little hiking experience and still completed the trail—a feat many seasoned hikers can’t even do. Finding inspiration from Strayed, my Alpha Chi sister and former roommate, Allison Orjala, decided to embark on a journey of her own.

I remember when Allison first began telling me of the dream she had to drive up the west coast to Washington and then east to Minneapolis on her summer break from teaching in Alamogordo, New Mexico. She would stop along the way through 11 national parks and even more state parks, camping when she could, hiking along some of the most intense trails with the most beautiful scenery in the United States. Despite having never traveled in that section of the country, she was passionate, excited, a bit nervous, but overall ready to take on the adventure. She actually has a track record for embracing her free spirit – one year during our campus winter term she backpacked through Puerto Rico with a friend for three weeks – so I knew this would be another amazing trip for her to add to the memories.

Just like Strayed, Allison is brave and she is strong. Through months of planning – and countless conversations about what backpack to buy and which parks to visit — she embarked on this trip without looking back.

Throughout her journey I followed her through whatever social media outlets she posted on, eager to see the incredible place she went next. Her adventures were fascinating and might as well have been a book of their own. She slept among the Joshua trees in the Mojave Desert, got an impromptu tattoo in San Francisco and drove through the mountains at Glacier National Park, embracing each landmark and experience for whatever it could teach her.

I couldn’t help but feel an overflow of admiration for Allison for being her own version of Strayed in achieving this dream. Having dreams is one thing, but achieving them is scary and daunting, and it takes a lot of strength. I never once doubted Allison would embrace the trip with all that is has to offer.

I’m so grateful to Alpha Chi Omega for putting this inspiring, daring and full-hearted real, strong woman in my life. Her journey has done nothing but encourage me to take on some dreams of my own. And the best part? I know for Allison this is just the beginning. This particular dream was just one of many, and I can’t wait to watch her continue to follow her dreams.

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Together let us seek the heights

BOT_LindsayVise_webBy: Lindsay Vise
Omicron, Baker University
Trustee; Alpha Chi Omega Foundation Board of Trustees

When I am asked to describe Megan Meyers, 2000 initiate of the Phi chapter at University of Kansas, my typical response is that she is the nicest, most generous person I know. It’s a simple statement, and probably not adequate, but it’s the best I can come up with to describe someone who not only pursues her own dreams but encourages those around her to realize their own as well.

Megan and I were both newly graduated from college when we met and became friends. We were starting a time in our lives when we were identifying our dreams  and how we could achieve them.

In the past 13 years, I have watched my amazingly talented friend pursue her dreams, many of which have been influenced by Alpha Chi Omega. She participated in the alumnae Global Service Initiative, traveled to new locations and enhanced her facilitation skills. Maybe she would have done all of these things without Alpha Chi Omega, but I know Alpha Chi Omega made her more confident.

We often credit Alpha Chi Omega with giving us the confidence to accomplish what we wouldn’t have otherwise. To me, that means Alpha Chi Omega gives us sisters like Megan, who not only set an example of working toward our dreams, but also passionately support and encourage the dreams of their sisters. This is truly what our Founders meant when they said, “Together let us seek the heights.”

Megan has been involved in the accomplishment of so many of my dreams, and I am thankful to Alpha Chi Omega for giving us the opportunity to share our dreams together. I am also thankful to Alpha Chi Omega for providing opportunities to women like Megan that allow her to continue to pursue her dreams.

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Happy Founders’ Day sisters!

web_Alexa_GatesBy: Alexa Gates
Gamma Mu, Ball State University
Resident Consultant, Western Oregon University

This Founders’ Day marks 130 years that our sisterhood has been growing and thriving. When I take a step back from my day-to-day role as a consultant and really reflect on Alpha Chi Omega’s founding, I realize how truly amazing it is how far we have come, and how far we can go together.

Alpha Chi Omega is from humble beginnings, founded on a simple idea from the hearts and minds of seven young women. And this idea, that became a more than century old national organization, has profoundly impacted my life and the lives of thousands of women who have chosen to wear the lyre badge, both before and after me. Our Founders were trendsetters and, in their own right, trailblazers – creating something new, something exciting, something transformational.

All Alpha Chi Omegas are connected to our Founders; whether it is by our values, our heritage, our traditions or just the simple fact that we had to learn their names to pass the initiation exam. While all Alpha Chi Omegas have this connection, I like to think that the consultants share a special connectedness with our seven Founders. The Founders acted as the original advocates of the Alpha Chi Omega experience, something that the consultants still do, each and every day.  Sometimes consultants are the only staff members collegians meet. They are advocates, educators and motivators, just as the Founders were. Consultants are trailblazers in their own right as well; in new ideas, new processes and, in some cases, new chapters.

On this Founders’ Day, take a moment to reflect on your connection to our founding; and since that crisp fall day in Indiana 130 years ago, how Alpha Chi Omega has become so much more than an idea in the hearts and minds of women all across our country.

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Celebrating 130 Years of Sisterhood

Liz_RaglandBy: Liz Ragland
Gamma Tau, Oklahoma City University

October is a busy month for Alpha Chi Omega. In recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, chapters across the country are fundraising for local shelters and the Alpha Chi Omega Foundation, in addition to spreading awareness on their campuses. October is also the month in which we celebrate the reason we all share a common bond: Founders’ Day!

Here are some ways collegiate chapters are celebrating our founding this year:

The Beta Omega (University of Toledo), Iota Chi (Middle Tennessee State University) and Zeta Psi (Loyola University) chapters will each do a carnation pass on campus. A carnation pass is when chapter members hand off red carnations to each other as they pass each other in class, in the cafeteria or anywhere on campus. Some chapters use seven carnations to honor our Founders, while other chapters hand out many more! To celebrate with sisters near and far, chapters can also do an online carnation pass by sending an image of a red carnation to sisters through text message, email or social media.

The Zeta Upsilon (Case Western Reserve University) chapter does a carnation pass for their chapter’s founding in September, and then in October, they have dinner at their chapter house with alumnae from the three Cleveland-area alumnae chapters. They also reminisce on their favorite Alpha Chi memories and sing songs. Vice President Ritual and Fraternity Appreciation Emily Ludwig also hopes to include a ritual ceremony in the chapter’s Founders’ Day celebration this year.Carnation_Pass_Loyola

The Beta Pi (Washington College) chapter celebrates with the campus community by handing out hot cider for “Cider with the Chis.” They also release seven balloons to honor our seven Founders.

Gamma Pi chapter members wear badge attire to class and have a special dinner off campus.

Gamma Omicron performs the Rededication of the Bond ceremony. They also celebrate by having a dinner and game night with local alumnae, in addition to performing their Founders’ Day skit.

Alumnae chapters are also celebrating Founders’ Day this month:

Iota Iota in Seattle is having a Founders’ Day celebration with the Rho chapter from the University of Washington. Rho will present its new member class, and Iota Iota will pin members with their milestone membership pins.

Gamma Tau Gamma in Orange County is enjoying the society of their sisters by celebrating with a wine tasting.

Beta Nu Beta in Tucson is having a formal dinner at the Beta Lambda (University of Arizona) house and will perform the Dream Cake ceremony for new members.

Sigma Sigma in St Louis celebrated Founders’ Day earlier in October with a luncheon and honored 50- and 60-year members.

Mu Mu in Kansas City, Missouri, will celebrate with a dinner at a local country club and will perform the 50-year ceremony. They will also assemble “baby bags” for families at the Rose Brook Domestic Violence Center.

Alpha Gamma Alpha in Atlanta is gathering for a lunch and presenting a panel with three current Alpha Chi leaders. Past National President Julie Cain Burkhard will be present and will share artifacts from our Founders.

What will your chapter be doing for Founders’ Day? If you’re celebrating this week or next, let us know in the comments section. Happy Founders’ Day, sisters!

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The Dreams We Share

Elizabeth_web-blogBy: Elizabeth Donaldson
Alpha, DePauw University
Associate Director of Operations, Alpha Chi Omega Foundation

If you had told me as a high school freshman from Dallas, Texas, that I would end up going to college in a tiny town in the middle of Indiana corn fields, and that it would change my life in ways I could never anticipate, I would have thought it unlikely.

And if you had told me I would meet friends who would become not only college roommates, but sisters who would make me laugh like never before and help introduce me to my husband, it would have seemed too good to be true.

But all that happened, and more. The “more” is the part I least anticipated. I never imagined meeting women who would inspire and support me for more than 18 years now. We have shared our dreams with each other and, better yet, are watching those dreams become reality together.

Paula Frederick Hoage and Jenny Breck Kovach have always been special Alpha Chi Omega friends. We enjoyed ridiculous college adventures, were post-college roommates navigating the trials of first jobs and have stood by each other’s sides at our weddings. But over the course of the past year, we have all shared one very important experience. We have all become mothers.

Paula and Jenny were a few months ahead of me in bringing their bundles of joy into the world. And although we may be thousands of miles apart, they have provided such great advice and support through the first year. Whether it be something silly like a teething toy recommendation or a more serious parenting moment, I can count on them for input. They are real, strong women who I am confident are raising real, strong little people.

When I met Paula and Jenny on the Alpha chapter lawn on bid day, I had no idea the years that lay ahead and the dreams we would watch unfold. And it brings me such joy to know that one of those dreams we are sharing together, the journey of motherhood.

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What’s Next?

web_Catherine_KerwinBy: Catherine Kerwin
Sigma, University of Iowa
Region 4 Traveling Consultant

During my first two months as a traveling consultant, I’ve worked with chapters across the country, from Seattle to Nashville. One of my favorite parts of being a traveling consultant is exploring the different coffee shops on the campuses I visit. You may be surprised to learn that the best coffee I’ve had so far during my travels wasn’t in Seattle, but in Manhattan, Kansas. (Shout out to Arrow Coffee Co.!) For an avid coffee drinker such as myself, having good coffee is a must, especially when frequently changing time zones.

From countless cups of coffee to waiting in seemingly endless lines at airport security and navigating my way through new parts of the country, this job keeps me on my toes! Not only am I becoming better at packing, but I’m also learning how to work in new environments. My collegiate experience as an Alpha Chi Omega taught me a lot, but as a consultant I’m continuing to better myself as a leader. Contrary to what I believed as a freshman, you don’t have all the answers once you graduate from college. I’m still growing into the woman I want to be, and once again, Alpha Chi is helping me grow.

As a collegian, I went through recruitment without the faintest idea of how joining a sorority could shape me as an adult. While a part of the Sigma chapter at the University of Iowa, I was an involved member who loved participating in homecoming, Greek week and attending other social events with my sisters.  I was the chapter’s historian for one semester, and I also served as a class representative on CRSB. However, I shied away from running for an executive officer position, and I wish someone would have encouraged me to pursue a role on the executive board. Nonetheless, I am now incredibly blessed to help collegiate women realize their leadership potential as I continue to expand my own horizons.

Getting to know the collegiate women at different chapters has shown me just how far the Alpha Chi sisterhood extends across the country. It makes every place I visit feel like home. I’m still figuring out exactly what I want to do after I’m finished working for Alpha Chi, and being able to travel and explore new places allows me to get a better idea of where I would like to go. Wherever I end up next, I know I’ll be able to reach out to sisters in the surrounding area for support. I’m thankful for the leadership experiences and friendships I’ve gained from being a consultant because I know they will set me up for success in the future.

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As Our Dreams Evolve

Rachel_Haley_webBy: Rachel Haley
Omicron, Baker University
Foundation Coordinator, Alpha Chi Omega Foundation

In August of 2011, I sat on the steps of Mabee Hall after signing my bid card waiting for my friends to finish signing theirs inside. My favorite recruitment counselor was sitting on the steps keeping me company. Throughout the process of recruitment, she encouraged me and made me feel confident in my final selection. Her deeply rooted passion for Greek life made me admire her even more. In a matter of four days on campus, she became a role model for me. Little did I know that in the hours ahead, I would soon be joining the very sisterhood to which she belonged. I will always remember coming home to the Omicron chapter of Alpha Chi Omega that late August night to find her welcoming me as a sister.

From that night forward, Rachel Shuck became a mentor and friend providing me with guidance and support throughout my collegiate years. She encouraged me to take active leadership roles on campus, within the chapter and on a national level with Alpha Chi Omega. She was always searching for ways to help me accomplish my dreams, from early on. In turn, I have been able to watch Rachel accomplish a number of her very own.

Rachel was always open about pursuing her dream of teaching mass media and journalism. She was the editor of the campus newspaper and the VP of public relations and marketing in the chapter. She paved her way to future success. However, in the last semester of her senior year, Rachel’s dreams changed. Her heart was no longer in education; her passion became more aligned with the Fraternity. Following her instincts, she shifted her career path towards Greek life. In the weeks prior to graduation, Rachel was thrilled to announce that she was hired by Pennington & Company as an alumni relations consultant, allowing her to combine her love for Greek organizations and mass media – a happy medium.

In four years’ time, Rachel has made her dreams a reality. She continues to work for Pennington & Company, now as senior alumni relations consultant, where she has spearheaded five capital campaigns and 11 annual campaigns for fraternities and sororities across the country. And today she proudly serves Omicron as a co-chapter advisor, continuing the legacy of real, strong women at our alma mater.

I have learned so much from Rachel throughout our friendship. Most importantly, she has taught me to never let my dreams grow stagnant, but to let my dreams continue to evolve and align with my passions. Supporting each other’s dreams and watching them become realities has been a privilege, for which I gratefully thank Alpha Chi Omega.

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I Knew Her When She Was Dreaming

Caitie_Adams_webBy Catie Adams
Alpha, DePauw University

For me, one of the coolest things about graduating and becoming a young alumna has been reflecting on how my friends grew over their four years at school and how they are now blossoming in the years beyond commencement. We all entered college with dreams, or at least little thoughts about who or what we wanted to be, and it has been so much fun to watch those dreams become reality.

I remember one beautiful night in the fall of my sophomore year at DePauw University when my friend Maritza and I took a blanket out onto Alpha Chi’s front lawn. We looked at the stars and talked about what we wanted to be and what we wanted the rest of our time at DePauw to look like. I was figuring out what major to declare and Maritza was just starting to think about going to grad school. Our futures seemed so far away then. Now look how far we’ve come—to some extent we’ve become the women we talked about being when we were laying in that grass.

Here’s the thing: Maritza and I are both pretty strong women, and we’re capable of doing what we want to do on our own. But I want to tell you a story that I think shows how we’re so much better together.

In the spring of my junior year, I studied abroad in Scotland. On the day I showed up, the sun had gone down by 4:30 p.m. When the cabbie dropped me off in front of my building, it was pitch dark and I realized I needed to go pick up my keys at a different building a couple blocks over. That building was closed too. So I was dragging all my stuff—enough for the entire semester—from one building to the other and back again, and my suitcases were making noise on the cobblestones. It was cold and I was nearly crying because I was in a foreign country and had nowhere to go. Then I remembered that my Alpha Chi sister Mackenzie, who was also studying in Scotland, got there a couple of days early and might be in her flat already. I thought I remembered her flat number, so I rang the number a couple of times and prayed. After a minute of hopeful silence, there came Mack across the foyer—I could see her through the window in the door. I can’t tell you the depth of the relief I felt. Here I was, across an ocean, jet-lagged, lost and cold, and my sister was there to welcome me. Together we got a hold of my keys, moved in my things and went out for Scottish comfort food.

And now I think: what if Mack hadn’t been there? What if we hadn’t lived in the same place? What if she hadn’t been in her flat? I think I probably would have figured it all out on my own. I would have gotten those keys eventually and could have eaten that shepherd’s pie all by myself. I would have been fine. But let me tell you, seeing Mack through that little window, that was more than fine—that was family.

I think that’s what Alpha Chi is really about for me. Our motto is “together let us seek the heights,” and I’ve come to realize that “together” is the most important part. We’re intelligent, strong women—we can and will do the things we’re going to do. But doing them together? That’s something really special. I feel like maybe we can do all that we want to do alone, but we can only be the people we want to be together.

Because when I think about laying on the front lawn with Maritza when she was just starting to think of getting her Ph.D. in sociology, and how now she’s totally killing it in her top-choice Ph.D. program, about how in our room senior year we changed all of each other’s “ifs” to “whens”—I realize I have this wild, unlimited confidence in my sisters. I believe in them. I really do believe that Maritza will do groundbreaking sociological work, just like she dreams. And Mackenzie really will save the planet via environmental geology. She’s already begun. Sophia’s going to start her own business, and, heck, Maddie already owns her own fitness centers. I see the kids Abby is going to teach and the minds Maryclare is going to change. And when all these things come to fruition, I’ll point to these wonderful, successful women and say, “I knew her when she was dreaming.”

And I’ll say this, too: When you have absolute confidence in a friend, you can’t help but know that she has absolute confidence in you. That’s a real friend—not just someone you like and enjoy, but someone who you can believe in, and someone who believes in you. Someone who will lay in the grass with you, and when you say, “Do you think I can do it?” she says, “Absolutely. I can’t wait to watch you.”

This is the kind of friendship I found in Alpha Chi. I found women I believe in, and women who believe in me. It has made all the difference.

And that grass Maritza and I laid in together? It grows in the same ground Alpha Chi Omega’s Founders walked 130 years ago. Around us, the leaves that inspired our scarlet red and olive green had just begun to fall. I wonder if the Founders dreamed of us when they sat in that grass? I think maybe they saw the influence tens of thousands of women loving and supporting one another could have. I think we are the legacy of their dreams come true.

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How to Live Out the Little r in Our Ritual

Corrinne WolfeBy Corinne Wolfe
Zeta Eta, Bradley University

Most people only consider the big R when they hear the word ritual, our initiation ceremony. It’s the “event” that supposedly defines us as Alpha Chi Omegas, and to an extent that is true. Without that beacon, we don’t always know where to point our Alpha Chi compass. It’s what makes us unique, the embodiment of our name, defines our bond, etc.

I, on the other hand, often consider ritual to be mostly made up of the little r; the one that resonates in my day to day life and seeps into my being whether it’s when I am walking out the door into the world, or into chapter on a Tuesday night.

The little r is what defines me to the rest of my world. It’s what my husband and our two boys see; it’s how my friends, colleagues and my community perceive me. Little r is what drives my behaviors. Little r is our shared values of friendship, leadership, learning and service; which continue far past the day you put on a cap and gown. Little r is why I strive to be the best version of myself every day and to learn from the mistakes of yesterday so that I am stronger tomorrow.

The little r is also why I continue to advise my local chapter. Little r is the journey we all take in Alpha Chi Omega. I always marvel each spring as graduation nears. As our seniors prepare to take on the world, I pause to reflect on their first day as members, of bid days come and gone. I remember how unsure some of them were of themselves (and the few who were overly sure). I think of the time between then and now, of the majors changed, the semesters abroad, the loved ones sometimes lost, the bonds that tightened and ones that broke apart. Most importantly though, I think of the women they become. As those girls who entered our chapter each fall prepare to leave four short years later, I am amazed at the real, strong women they become. Women who possess the strength, grace and authenticity of our Founders.

So as another year approaches and I prepare myself for another marathon recruitment season (which at my age requires a lot more Starbucks and under eye concealer with each passing fall), I feel the little r in the air and it’s electric. It’s sisters embracing after a summer away, it’s an executive board with sights set high on a new school year and it’s the excitement of welcoming a new group of women into our sisterhood to share our bond and continue our legacy. Being part of their journey reminds me why I chose Alpha Chi Omega, literally, a century ago. It bridges the little r of our sisterhood to the big R of our Ritual and reminds me of that amazing thing that brings us all together.