Welcome to Fall!
Do you remember your first day on campus? For some that was just last week. For others, it was a few years ago. But walking into a new world on a new campus can be pretty overwhelming. As a college student many, MANY years ago, I still remember how it felt coming to UT, swimming in quiet isolation with crowds of strangers everywhere. While I was lucky to have many friends join me at Tennessee and I was excited about this new campus, in those first few weeks, I was not feeling altogether comfortable in all of these large new spaces. Then I met Stacy.
Stacy was much wiser older student… a sophomore from Chattanooga who was the suitemate of my high school friend. Stacy was in a word, cool. She was seemingly everything I was not. Stacy was in my sorority and everyone’s first pick for a big sister. In those first few days of class, she pulled few of us into her room in South Carrick and gave us some special wisdom… some guidelines… “How to not look like a freshman.” According to Stacy, there were some things to help you navigate what she described as the challenge of looking like a freshman. First rule…. Wear your new greek letters. If it just a button on your backpack, when you wear them, that is cool, Just remember to look nice and have a sense of pride. She also suggested that we should wear said backpack slung only on one shoulder “because two shoulders would be very uncool…” Advice that would later prove to match the ridiculous choices we made in the 80s like the definition of good hair. Stacy’s third rule of how not to look like a freshman was to skip Presidential Cafeteria and eat in Morrill because the food was better, and the cute upperclassmen ate there. So following her advice, I put my sorority button on my backpack (check) and wore my backpack on one shoulder (check) and gathered my tray of yummy cafeteria food in Morrill Hall (check). Then I saw an open table next to some really cute older students who were actually smiling at me (check). Yes, I was winning this how not to look like a freshman business. Then going to put my tray down, my backpack fell into the crook of my arm causing the food on my tray to fly across the table. Mortified at the scene I had just made, the cute upperclassmen at the next table were laughing and one softly whispered to the other “freshman.” True story.
But the reality so many years later is that as much I would have liked to skip over the awkwardness of my new beginnings, there are some things in life that you cannot skip over or race through. Someone shared a quote with me many years ago that “life is a series of freshman year experiences.” We have all had them in some form or fashion and the reality is, you will have them again. Whether your first year at college or first year in new leadership role. First year to be in a relationship or in a new job. Your first year in a new marriage, or a new town. The first year as a new parent or the first year after the kids leave home. I have even heard older friends talk about how couples manage not to lose it with one another through their the freshman year of retirement. Life will bring you to those places where all that you once thought you knew, may all seem to be new again. Certainly, I have seen my fair share of freshman years. While the challenges are no less difficult, the cumulative effect allows us to see the reality that you will get through them and find yourself in a better place down the road. We tend to want to live life with an easy button and to speed through change, but real sustained growth takes time.
Give yourself grace to get to that place where all of this is comfortable. Know that you are surrounded by people who want to see you succeed. That is one of the greatest gifts of fraternity and sorority… people to walk beside you through all of the journeys you will take. Remember high school: the transition from freshman to senior year took a little time. Hopefully, you will get to a better place or maybe even as my daughters say, “glow-up,” but allow yourself the space to learn, to stumble and be there for one another when you need someone to help clean up your messes. (Even in front of the cute upperclassmen.) It’s going to be ok. We are so glad you are here. And we are here for you.
Welcome to Sorority and Fraternity Life,
Kelly Phillips serves as the Director of Sorority and Fraternity Life and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 865-974-2236