Executive Committee Retreat - July 2012

As Chairman of the National Panhellenic Conference, I am often asked about the work of the Conference and what we are “up to these days.” I respond by telling people that we are “the premier advocacy and support organization for the advancement of the sorority experience” and that we do this work collectively as a body of 26 individual sorority organizations. What I don’t usually tell them about are the individuals behind the decisions that make this a dynamic, thriving organization. I had the opportunity to spend last weekend with some of these dynamic women, and I was reminded, once again, that the Conference is so much more than the work that we do, we are a group of women who believe passionately in the power of the sorority experience. 

As an Executive Committee we gather in person frequently throughout the year to discuss relevant topics that are affecting our members and member sororities and we discuss the course of action for the Conference as outlined by the Board of Directors. All very high-level decisions and work that you would expect an Executive Committee to do. What you may not expect is that we actually enjoy each other and the work, while it is hard work, these women make it fun. 

The NPC Executive Committee is comprised of five women: Jean Mrasek the vice chairman; Julie Johnson, College Panhellenics Committee chairman; Mary Jane Beach, Alumnae Panhellenics Committee chairman; JosetteKaufman, Budget and Finance Committee chairman; and me. We come from all over the country from all walks of life but with one common purpose – execute the vision and direction that the NPC board of directors has set forth and advance the sorority movement.

These women are my colleagues, confidants and most importantly, they are my friends. We have different Panhellenic backgrounds and paths that brought us to our current roles, but we share the same passion for sorority. I am blessed to know them and work alongside them, along with the other members of our board of directors, and I look forward to the remainder of my term as chairman and all that we will accomplish.

My Convention Experience

By Rachel Gurley, Alpha Phi Fraternity, Butler University

Rachel (right) with Alpha Phi's NPC Delegate and former 
NPC Chairman, Sally Grant (left), at the Candlelight Banquet.

When reflecting on my collegiate experiences as an Alpha Phi, it’s hard not to smile. I was fortunate to attend Alpha Phi’s Emerging Leaders Institute last summer as a sophomore member. When the opportunity presented itself for me to attend convention, I could not wait to reunite with my ELI sisters from across the country for another summer adventure with Alpha Phi. 

I was already aware the world of Alpha Phi expands beyond just my chapter from my experience at the leadership institute.  Convention immersed me in the big world of Alpha Phi once again. This time not only did I find that I am a part of an amazing organization that’s larger than my chapter, but I learned I also have many alumnae sisters that are very experienced, accomplished and great at what they do.

Every Panhellenic organization has particular alumnae that are famous members. Katie Couric, Sheryl Crow and Ashley Judd are all fabulous sorority women.  At convention I got to hear the stories of women (my sisters!) who are just as amazing as the pop culture stars we normally highlight.  

Sorority women are driven and passionate. Our International President, Linda Long Boland, said it all by using the famous Isaac Newton quote, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulder of giants.” Alumnae now and alumnae before them have broken down barriers to be successful in their fields. We are where we are today because of the women who served as giants before us. There is still work to be done. Women continue to struggle for equal opportunity, compensation and respect in the work place. But by following the examples of the leading women in our organizations we can be the giant for the next generation.

As a collegiate member, I am inspired by the stories I heard and the alumnae I met at convention. I saw examples of amazing women who truly live out the values of our organization. Sorority membership is for a lifetime. After attending convention I have a greater understanding of what lifetime membership looks like. How we choose to spend our lifetime is up to us. Why not ‘stand on the shoulders of giants’?

Sorority Conventions Provide Lasting Memories

For National Panhellenic Conference members, summer is truly a special time. Hundreds of women gather to celebrate sorority and all that their national organizations have to offer – camaraderie, connections and conversation. From one convention destination point to another, you will find women gathering to strategize about advocacy, bestow honors, memorialize student and alumnae leaders, and share best practices.

As we all respectively head to our annual conventions this summer, we thought it appropriate to share convention memories from your current executive leaders here at NPC.

I was pledged and initiated at a small university and chapter. When I graduated, I joined an alumnae chapter. But it wasn’t until my first national convention that I realized the true meaning of lifetime membership.

I witnessed the excitement of sisters, young and old, reconnecting with sisters they had not seen in years, or meeting new sisters, and realizing we were not strangers, but women who shared a special bond through our membership in Alpha Xi Delta.

In later years while attending other NPC member group conventions, I saw that same excitement and pride in their sisterhood and organization as I had in mine. As I witnessed the shared experience, I realized the potential we have to advocate for women and the sorority experience.

Here are other memories from NPC leaders:

Jean Mrasek: My first sorority convention was 30 years ago. I was chapter president and arrived at the national meeting totally wide-eyed and anxious to learn more about Chi Omega's history and teachings. It was an incredible experience that taught me that the sisterhood circle was much larger than I ever imagined. I was impressed with the intergenerational aspect of the gathering - collegians and alumnae of all ages. I left inspired as a Chi Omega chapter officer who could make a difference on my campus. I did not dream that my degree of impact one day would be widespread as an elected national officer of my beloved fraternity. And I did not realize the number of lasting friendships that would be formed as a result of my involvement with NPC.  Indeed, the sisterhood circle is much larger than I ever imagined. Not only do I have a special bond with my Chi Omega sisters, but I have a special bond with my Panhellenic sisters who also share common values and standards.

Mary Jane Beach: Kappa Alpha Theta will convene its 70th Grand Convention in Tucson June 28. While attending convention is now familiar, the excitement is nearly the same as the first time. My first Kappa Alpha Theta Convention was so inspiring. As the Jacksonville, Florida, alumna delegate, I attended not knowing a soul. I was so impressed by Lissa Bradford presiding as Grand President (who would later go on to serve as NPC Chairman) and how she demonstrated the values of Kappa Alpha Theta, I promptly went home and wrote her a letter telling her this. Little did I know then what opportunities the future held! This experience set my course of Theta volunteering at the local, district and national levels including Fraternity President as well as NPC Delegate and my current Executive Committee service with the National Panhellenic Conference!

Julie Johnson: To say my collegiate chapter was isolated from other Kappa Delta chapters is an understatement. The closest chapter was 500 miles away, so I had had no exposure to other collegiate sisters. I remember walking into the lobby of the convention hotel in Miami Beach, and was awestruck with seeing National President Jean Tucker Stradley greeting people. It was like seeing a movie star for me. I met sisters from collegiate chapters all over the country, some much larger (and also smaller) than mine. We shared stories and ideas and problems. Even though I had just met them, I felt that "instant" connection and bond, and quickly realized their chapter issues were really not much different than those of my own chapter. I have been to more than 15 national conventions. Even though I have fond memories from each of them, nothing will ever replace that excitement and awe I had from attending that first convention as a collegian.

Josette Kaufman: The dictionary offers one of definition of “sister” as having a close relationship with another because of shared relationships. If that’s the case, I believe the National Panhellenic Conference is my other mother because of all the close Panhellenic sisters I have been fortunate enough to gain through my sorority experience. At a recent convention I had the opportunity to install Phi Sigma Sigma’s current National President, Alicia Scott. Just before her installation, we also installed her mom Patty Scott. It reminded me of 13 years earlier when my own mom, Nancy Marshall, was installed as a Phi Sigma Sigma prior to my own installation as National President. I credit my own mom and my NPC mom as having shaped me into the sorority woman I am today.

Do you have a convention story to share? If so, tell us about your special moment on Facebook or Twitter and use this hashtag #sororitytraveler. We hope you enjoy your summer and quality time spent with sisters.