Author: Elizabeth Kimmelman Schwartz, C’04
A confession: I wasn’t that cool in high school. (I know you are shocked by this given that I’ve divulged my love for the X Files on here). But wait – I wasn’t a nerd either – I was in that in between category, mainly reserved for people who cared too much about school to ever be cool. I had a lot of friends and a fun social life but I was in the smart classes and didn’t party. In any case, I really did like high school. I still have great friends from that time in my life and wonderful memories. However, I knew when I got to college, things would be different.
Here’s one of the unspoken, great things about Penn. Probably 80% of the people at this school were not cool in high school. But then we come to Penn, a place where it is okay to study and work hard, a place where it’s okay have a conversation about nerdy things and where there are so many people and groups that you don’t have to worry as hard about fitting in. There is no cool clique or popular crowd because there are just too many people for that to make sense. Additionally, most of the students here were like me in high school – “nerdy” by default but social and fun. So, what did I decide to do with this newfound sense of belonging and “coolness?” I rushed a sorority.
I am sure most of my high school friends were taken aback by the thought of me in a sorority. Girls who watch The X Files and take Calculus for fun are not the type of girls who are supposed to join sororities. I didn’t care. I wanted to try it out – I wanted to be part of a world that seemed completely inaccessible to me when I was a high school freshman, singing second soprano in choir and performing in the shows (yup, I’m dropping nerd alerts along the way as you keep reading). So, I signed up for rush and was on my way!
Let me tell you – for an extrovert like me, rush was amazing. We recently learned in a seminar at work that the difference between extroverts and introverts is that extroverts derive energy from interacting with large groups of people, whereas introverts are drained by it. Sorority rush, to me, was like drinking five cups of coffee, and I don’t drink caffeine. I put my black pants on and met new person after new person, after new person. It didn’t stop at the girls in the sororities! I met the girls who stood near me in line, the girls in my rush group, the girls who were preffing (a word for the last round of rush) the same houses – so many new people! It was awesome…until I got rejected from a couple sororities I liked. But, I bounced back, kept going, and found my home at Chi Omega.
Of course there were parts of the process that weirded me out. At some rounds, when the sisters talked about how much they loved their house, they would cry. I didn’t like that. One of the sororities dressed up as hippies for the first round. As someone who shopped solely at the Gap and maybe Arden B when I was feeling “wild,” I cut them immediately. But those experiences were few and far between.
I know that rush might sound silly. Parading around campus in black pants meeting lots of girls and having nothing more than superficial conversations does not seem particularly productive on the surface. But, sorority rush taught me a lot about life. It taught me how to have a conversation with almost anyone, something that comes in very handy in my job in Alumni Relations. It taught me to be polite (you never wore a watch during rush because if you glanced at it while talking to someone it would be rude). It taught me, when I was on the other side of rush, how to work as a team. (Just ask me, I still remember our dance to “Funky Cold Medina” which became “Funky Chi Omega.”) And, it taught me how to face rejection, keep my head up, and how to have faith that in the end things work out.
Sorority rush also led to one of the most defining experiences in my Penn life – serving as Panhellenic Council President. But, I’ll save that for another day! Now, I’m off to a work meeting where I will no doubt have a great conversation with someone and not glance at my watch.