Rita Kambic Haldeman, Nu Gamma/Pennsylvannia State University, pins the Chi Omega bagde on her daughter, Phi Alpha’s Model Initiate, Hayley Haldeman. Looking on is Hayley’s grandmother, Anna Hope Haldeman, Omicron Gamma/Westminster College. Discover much more about Phi Alpha:
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Mom Was Right:
The Diary of a Chi Omega Legacy
—by Hayley Haldeman, 2009 Phi Alpha Model Initiate
As a senior at the George Washington University, one thing I never expected to do was join a sorority. In fact, although I never really was that great at keeping a journal, had I written an entry four years ago, it probably would have read something like this: "I'm so excited to be living in the city! GWU, in the heart of the District of Columbia, is unlike any other university in the country. Mom, however, is devastated by my steadfast pledge to avoid sorority life. It's probably for the best that Chi Omega, her chapter at Pennsylvania State University, is not at GWU . . ."
As an international affairs major, my interest in Greek life was initially resigned more so to foreign relations and pitas with tzatiki sauce than Sisterhood and socials. Misconceptions and stereotypes adulterated my view of sororities, and I quickly became busy with other activities. My freshman and sophomore years flew by, and I had a great group of friends at school. However, early in my junior year, I began to feel a twinge of envy at my peers in Greek life. At a time when several of my friends went abroad, I marveled at my mother and grandmother, both Chi Omegas, and both still in contact with Sisters from their pledge class.
It was fortuitous, therefore, when rumors began circulating in the spring of my junior year that Chi Omega was possibly colonizing on campus. My enthusiasm in discussions with friends must have memorable, as I received four text messages when our school newspaper announced that Chi Omega would be here in the fall. Although one would assume that I should have realized this, Chi Omega taught me the first of many life lessons: never, ever call your mother screaming if it is after midnight, even if it is to tell her that her sorority will be colonizing. She did eventually recover, leaving me voicemails the following morning to the tune of "Oklahoma": "Chhhhhi Omega . .
C-H-I-O-M-E-G-AAAA . . ."
Recruitment began in early October, and the whirlwind one-week process seemed especially daunting. I was so nervous to attend the Meet and Greet event, and endlessly drilled my roommates as to what "First-Date" attire, as suggested by the invitation, actually entailed. The recruitment team was composed of some of the most welcoming women I had ever met at GWU, and the integrity and values of the organization were readily apparent. However, I can't say I wasn't terrified. With more than 275 girls vying for approximately 115 bids, "flourishing," as the bold cardinal and straw signs prompted, was the last thing on my mind!
Luckily, I did receive a bid. As I walked over to the bid party and crowded into the elevator with myriad unfamiliar faces, I was struck by the realization that these women would be my Sisters! None of us knew what to expect, and nervous chatter punctuated the festive atmosphere. We all squealed while rummaging through our new totes, emblazoned with Xs and horseshoes. As we went around the room to introduce ourselves, something occurred to me that resonated through the next few months: the diversity of our colony. Chi Omega had appealed to us all for different reasons, and the stories of the seniors who abstained for three years from Greek life contrasted nicely with the freshman who held out from recruitment in hopes that Chi Omega was the perfect fit. Because the majority of us had experienced college not through a sorority, we brought to Chi O a vast array of leadership experience and involvement with other organizations, creating a hodgepodge of differing expectations and views.
In spite of our diverse backgrounds – or, perhaps, because of – a sense of camaraderie, excitement, and dedication swept through our colony. The night after Bid Day, we had our first colony meeting, led by Elizabeth Steel, our national consultant responsible for advising the colony. I think the entire colony was enamored with her from this day forward. Her energy in facilitating colony events and integrity as an advisor demonstrated what a true Chi Omega was. Elizabeth paired each of us with another new member from the colony every week, our "Owl Pal," so we would get to know each other, and held "Lunch Bunch," when we all could meet and talk over lunch. She developed Sisterhood Support Teams (SST), groups of 10 or so girls that could meet outside colony meetings. I initially knew no one in my SST, but after bonding over brunch and a potluck dinner, I was happy to associate names with faces and see firsthand the caliber of my future Sisters.
Elizabeth organized our New Member Retreat for two weeks after Bid Day, a day of Sisterly bonding, learning Chi O knowledge, and colony officer elections. I had never considered running for office until a few days before Retreat, when I received a package from my mother. Needless to say, she was ecstatic, and had sent me a copy of The Eleusis, a note, and her 1970s (I was sworn not to reveal the year . . .) bid to the Nu Gamma Chapter of Chi Omega at Pennsylvania State University. I knew, at that point, that I wanted to make the most of the short time I had left with Chi Omega at GWU and successfully ran for president of the colony.
The remaining weeks of the semester flew by, highlighted by the increasingly strong bonds of Sisterhood and understanding of Chi Omega. At Big/Little Revelations, Elizabeth and Amanda Aune, another national consultant, spent more than six hours in coordinating our families. They painstakingly blew up balloons with our families listed on a sheet of paper inside, then tied a name tag to each balloon. Each girl was instructed to find her balloon. Another life lesson: The only thing louder than 100+ balloons popping at the same time was 100+ girls shrieking with delight when they connected with their families. Our colony also participated in Greek events across campus: football games, mixers, and philanthropy events. We raised more than $5,000 and tied for first place in Sigma Phi Epsilon's AIDS Awareness charity event. One specific part of the challenge was to create a banner representing the partnership of our chapter and the fraternity. As my mother was a Chi O, and my father is a Sig Ep, I joking suggested putting up a photo of myself. Attesting to the good taste of my Sisters, my suggestion was readily vetoed.
The experience as colony president was not without its moments of difficulty. I had served in executive roles in other organizations, but nothing compared to the life as a sorority president. A dear friend, who had graduated the semester prior after four years in a fraternity, sagely advised me that the primary duty of leadership was to "manage expectations." I was honored that my colony had given me such profound responsibilities, and I feel that the only time I truly embarrassed myself was during my first week as G.H. When a sign-in sheet was passed around during a all-sorority chapter presidents' meeting, I, still unfamiliar with the Greek alphabet, momentarily drew the Omega upside down. Horrors! I recognized my mistake almost immediately and corrected it. For some time after though, I remained terrified that Elizabeth, sitting to my left, noticed and would have me deposed, or whatever the punishment was for a malfunctioning president.
Fortunately, I began to get a better grip on my responsibilities or, at the very least, the direction of the letters. As finals loomed near and the excitement for the holidays offered a brief respite from crammed schedules of papers and, well, cramming, I became increasingly aware of the reinstallation. Winter break flew by and, next thing I knew, I was back at school. While I would like to say that Chi O ceremonies were the first thing on my mind, another earlier "installation" of sorts took precedence, making the week of January 20 the busiest of my life. My friends and I attended the inauguration of President Barack Obama and one of the many inaugural balls one Tuesday night. With only a day to recover from the excitement and the two million people who arrived in D.C. for the inauguration, we had Chi Omega Prelude and the beginning of Installation on Thursday night!
Rumors about Prelude and Initiation procedure ran rampant throughout the colony. With none of us knowing what to expect, seniors had as much chance as the freshman in dispelling them. However, after we anxiously entered Prelude, met by a few coy smiles from the advisors, the revelations from the first of many secrets united us as a chapter. Prelude was also the night I was named Model Initiate. I found this to be a greater honor than my position as president. To me, it meant that I had earned the friendship and, perhaps more importantly, the respect of my fellow Sisters. I only hoped I would embody whatever it was I was supposed to be embodying during Initiation, still a complete mystery.
During Prelude, as we discussed what Chi Omega meant to us and our experience with the colony, the reflections were both amusing and emotional. Girls choked up when they identified Chi Omega as the most meaningful activity they've chosen at GWU, becoming so close with new best friends and a support group. Just as strong, though perhaps not as poignant, were the telling signs of how unique our experience as a colony was. Girls iterated stories of roommates dragging them to recruitment or calling parents to tell them they were joining a sorority. The most frequent response, usually from non-Greek parents, was "Well, honey, you don't like girls . . ." Another one of our Sisters is originally from Paris. She described the difficult explanation she met when her French friends and family assumed she was joining a group celebrating the heritage of Greece. These anecdotes of initial reticence and misconceptions demonstrated how powerful the positive influence of Chi Omega was. Our still abstract conception of what sorority life entailed was reified into an understanding of a concrete Chi Omega lifestyle, with both the values of the Symphony and the secrets of Ritual.
Saturday morning was reinstallation. I didn't have to be there until a bit later than the other girls, but I arrived earlier to visit my parents and grandmother, who were staying in the same hotel as the ceremony. My mother, normally laidback about clothing, had spent more time choosing her outfit than I imagine she will for my wedding. Although I had been reassuring her that whatever she wore was fine, despite how troublesome finding an appropriate white outfit in January was, it was she who calmed me down when I knocked on her door. Already nervous, my new member pin had somehow fallen off on my walk to the hotel. I was terrified that it was part of the Installation Ritual, and, at some highly dramatic moment of the ceremony, the Model Initiate would have to mumble something about a faulty clasp. My mother and grandmother had to leave early for the ceremony. I was left with only my father, who had already mortified me by admitting he sang Chi Omega songs to the various delegates he met in the elevator.
As I made my way down to the lobby, I never imagined that the next three hours would be some of the most memorable, inspiring, and mystical experiences ever. Although impossible to take everything in at the time, I was awed by the ceremony. The Chi Kappa Chapter at George Mason University had practiced for days to initiate us, and I, along with the other Phi Alphas, were amazed by their poise, kindness, and eloquence. In perhaps the biggest surprise, both my mother and grandmother were not only in attendance, but actually part of the ceremony. My grandmother characteristically winked at me, and my mother, also characteristically, was simultaneously crying and beaming.
The banquet that followed was truly a celebration of Sisterhood. I had a chance to meet consultants and Chi Omega executives from across the country. My grandmother was delighted when the mother of a new Phi Alpha Sister rushed to her – they were both from the same chapter, Omicron Gamma at Westminster College! Phi Alpha alumnae, waiting to resurrect their chapter, attended the event as well. In addition to magnanimously giving the chapter a scholarship grant, they had kept their candlesticks for meetings this entire time. S.H. Fulkerson, a celebrity amongst the Sisters, addressed the crowd with such genuine enthusiasm and friendly support that girls clamored to take pictures with her after the meeting. I also had the opportunity to speak to all the Phi Alphas and guests; the crowd seemed so warm and receptive, reflecting my entire experience as a Chi O new member.
From all of this, what has Chi Omega meant to me? Some people would consider Greek life a classic aspect of college, yet my decision to rush was probably one of the most atypical of my time in D.C. I could never have imagined how an organization would permeate my lifestyle. Whenever I wear my letters, I always think that those who see will instantly identify me as part of something still new and flourishing. As a result, I am more self-aware, and like to think the letters remind me to carry myself with the dignity and integrity I’ve learned through my months as a Chi Omega.
When I consider the entire experience, as a cumulative whole, I always come back to my mom. Aside from Chi O-shrieking enthusiasm (I tend to err on the side of hyperbole), she usually is, as aforementioned, the mild-mannered and steadying calm in my life. However, even up to Reinstallation, she remained still flabbergasted that I was in Chi Omega. At first I thought it was because, after my years of protest, it still seemed unreal to her. Now I realize that, what is more inspiring, my mother knows that Chi Omega is a near steadfast guarantee for women – a guarantee that they will encounter and embody the same virtues that have continued for more than a century, and a guarantee that, like my mother, they will be embraced into a Sisterhood that means they will still see their Sisters every year for the last three decades. The tears my mother cried at Reinstallation were not from astonishment, but rather from the happy realization that I would now share these benefits -- as her Sister.
—Author Hayley Haldeman graduated in May with a major in ininternational affairs and minors in history and art history. She will attend the University of Virginia School of Law in the fall.
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