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My Penn State Alumni Parents Reflect On Their First Greek Parents Weekend

Unless you spent the entire weekend in your room, you probably noticed the influx of parents not only walking downtown and at the Creamery but also at the frats. That can only mean one thing: Greek parents weekends are upon us.

After being initiated into Delta Gamma this spring, one of the first events my small pledge class had a chance to take part in was Parents Weekend. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was excited to see my parents and have them meet my new friends.

As the daughter of Penn State Greek life sweethearts, family visits to Penn State include hundreds of “when I was here” stories, which get more interesting once you grow up and your parents let more details slip. Having my parents come back to Happy Valley and experience the Greek life that I know inspired them to reflect on the Penn State they knew, an experience that they’ve told me about many times. Now, they took the opportunity to share that reflection with you.

My Mom Megan Cartwright | KKG Pledge Class 1992 | Penn State Class of 1996

When the invite for Sorority Parents Weekend arrived, it came as no surprise that there would be events like a brunch at the Nittany Lion Inn. I did, however, find it interesting that the evening activities included a parent social at a fraternity. Sure, it had been a few (read: many, many) years since I’ve partied at a Penn State frat, but I figured, why not?

Kappa photo 1993
My mom Megan (left) and two of her sorority sisters.

Earlier this semester, our daughter decided to join a sorority, and I was happy to share my experience with her from back in the 1990s. We all gathered on the fifth floor of Curtin Hall to swap outfits, crimp our hair, and practice walking in high heels for Rush parties. “Mom, they call it Recruitment now.” We met with our Rho Chis at the HUB. “Mom, they call them Pi Chis now.” We waited for our sorority catalogs. “Mom, you just sign up online and they text you the schedule now.”

For me, joining a sorority was about finding a group of like-minded women, creating life-long friendships, and joining an organization that valued scholarship, philanthropy, and fun. Now that my shy, sweet, only child was considering Greek life, I had the typical mom worries: mean girls, hazing, peer pressure, or getting “cut” from her top choice. As she navigated through her freshman year, I relived all of my young adult fears — homesickness, challenging classes, diverse perspectives, and being accepted.

Now you add fraternity socials to the mix? I had a lot of questions to prepare for the social: Are we going to a “good” fraternity? Do you have mandatory non-alcoholic events? Will they add us to “The List?” What are the rules for taking photos with friends? Are you allowed to “check in” on Facebook when you’re at a fraternity?

Kappa photo
My mom (middle) with her Big and Little.

Once I arrived and started talking to other non-Penn State, non-Greek parents, I realized I had a leg up on them. A few years ago I was actually at THIS fraternity with my sorority sisters. At least I knew where the bathrooms were. Now I had new questions: Why didn’t they have flat screen TVs in party rooms when we were here? Why don’t they have a coat check room? What, exactly, is a fracket? Why didn’t they serve baguettes with goat cheese and olive tapenade in the 90s?

As I walked into the party room the music was blaring and I realized there is something that transcends the generation gap. Its name is Bon Jovi. Everyone was dancing and singing along, and, quite frankly, living on a prayer. In the end, Greek life at Penn State is about finding your little family in this great big collegiate community. It’s about building your social network and your confidence. It’s about meeting new people, dancing until your feet hurt, and singing until you lose your voice. As my daughter introduced her real mom to her pledge mom and took selfies with her newly initiated sisters, I knew she had found her place and her people.

It may not be for everyone, but for me and apparently now for my daughter, it’s about sisterhood. It’s about finding the women that will help you cross that bridge from high school to adulthood, and saying to them: take my hand. We’ll make it. I swear.

My Dad Jason Cartwright | DU Pledge Class 1992 | Penn State Class of 1996

When I decided to attend Penn State (right around the time NKOTB and Public Enemy were, strangely, equally cool), I made the decision based on my love of Penn State football, a desire to go to a large school with a variety of academic options, and going far enough away from home that my parents wouldn’t just pop in to say hi. Many of my high school friends also chose Penn State, so my first semester was basically an extension of high school. Over my first winter break, I thought that I needed a change of scenery and decided (with a little prodding from my roommate) to rush a fraternity. I didn’t consider myself a “Frat Guy” but I thought that with 50-plus houses to choose from, I’d find somewhere I felt comfortable. Not only did I find the right house, I found the friends that remain by my side to this day.

image3
My dad Jason (back row, second from the left) and his fraternity brothers.

Fast forward to 2015, my daughter is now a freshman deciding whether or not to rush. She chose Penn State with zero influence from the gridiron, a shaky comfort level with the distance from home, and subtle influences from her PSU parents. Will the Greek experience work out as well for her as it did for me? Is sorority rush still a complete and utter mess (The answer is YES)? Will she be able to handle pledging in addition to her classwork and other activities? In the end, she survived rush and found a group of women that share her values and will begin to form her support group for the next three years and beyond.

As is expected, things change over time at your Alma Mater. New buildings go up (everywhere). Classes are scheduled online. And Parents Weekend morphs from a lightly attended, university-sanctioned event to an opportunity to not only visit your kid, but relive your Glory Days.

The first sign that something was different was the EXCELLENT attendance at the 11 a.m. Nittany Lion Inn brunch. I couldn’t believe that all these parents had made the trip for the one-day event. My parents never came to Parents Weekend, not once. Something was amiss. The 4 p.m. cocktail party at the fraternity was also well attended, but that made sense…there were cocktails. It was nice to meet other parents, some also alums, others new to the big school experience and/or Greek life. After we all parted ways for dinner, we made our way back to the fraternity…that’s when I stepped back in time.

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My dad (top, third from left) at formal.

There was a student with a laptop sitting at the front door and I instinctively thought, “Am I on the list?” Once past the front door, the main level had barely been touched since we left. Where was the party? Our daughter said “downstairs” as if it was the dumbest question I’d ever asked. As we descended the stairs, the memories came flooding back…stale beer smell, sticky floors, Beirut…uh, I mean, beer pong table, blaring music, everything was as it had once been. This. Was. Awesome…and kinda weird. I mean, my daughter was standing next to me. The same little girl that I coached in soccer and drove to ballet was now a young woman. A sorority girl, in the best possible meaning of that phrase — confident, self-aware, strong — and I couldn’t be more proud of her. So as we sang “Livin’ on a Prayer” together at the top of our lungs, my life had come full circle.

That was my take away from my first Parents Weekend. While it was a great walk down memory lane, it was an even greater joy to see how much my baby girl has grown up. I can’t wait to come back again next year to continue to support her journey and witness her growth.

About the Author

Jess Cartwright

Jess Cartwright is a photographer for Onward State. She is a freshman from Jenkintown, Pennsylvania studying Photojournalism in the College of Communications. She hopes to one day work for National Geographic, doing her two favorite things - traveling the world and taking pictures.

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