“And up next is Marisa Donnelly, reading three poems for us tonight.”
I hear my name. I hear clapping. I wipe my sweaty palms on my black dress pants and take a deep breath. This always happens before I read my writing. I always get this bubbly, anxious feeling. My hands sweat, my heart squeezes, and my stomach feel like there’s a tiny hamster inside, running in circles on a little wheel.
I smile. Take the microphone from the moderator and step to the podium.
Looking out into the crowd, there’s at least two hundred faces—students, Alpha Chi Sponsors, regional and national delegates and representatives. The room is dark except for a green glowing light behind me—a decorative addition of the Sheraton Chicago Ballroom—and a spotlight directed on my face. I take a breath and speak. My voice fills the room and instantly the hamster wheel stops, the bubbling stops, the squeezing stops. And I’m washed with calm.
“Hello. My name is Marisa Donnelly and I will be reading three poems from a collection I’ve been working on this past year, entitled ‘Tilted Compass’, which explores the complicated relationships we often find ourselves in. The poems are “Anchor,” “Loving an Alcoholic,” and “After the Fight.”
I pause for a second, then begin.
The Alpha Chi National Convention, March 19-21 2015, was held this year at the Sheraton Hotel in Chicago, Illinois. Hundreds of students from both the United States and internationally, gathered from different colleges across the country to celebrate scholarship, academics, networking, and camaraderie. Five members from Waldorf University attended: Marisa Donnelly, Molly Maschka, Tara Kingland, Jenna Tegtmeyer, and Shaye Sutherland.
The Sheraton is located in a prime part of the city, just a walk from Millennium Park, the location of the famous ‘Bean’ and Jay Pritzker Pavilion; the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) and Skydeck; and Navy Pier, home of the well-known Ferris Wheel overlooking the city skyline.
The convention began on Thursday afternoon with a gathering related to the theme and national service project, “Harmonious Hemispheres: The Nexus of Science and the Arts.” For the service project, chapters and schools were asked to raise money for the Art Therapy Connection of Chicago, which as their website states, is a “non-profit organization that provides in-school and after-school art therapy and expressive arts programming for at-risk youth who have little or no access to support.” It was asked that each school collected art supplies and donated at least $50, which Waldorf University contributed as a result of the face-painting events and bake sales held on campus earlier this year.
An informal ‘Taste of Chicago’ reception was held following the Art Therapy gathering, which included various favorites from local restaurants: chicken and waffles, beef or barbeque chicken sliders, cheesecake pops, meats and cheeses, breads, and Chicago-style hotdogs. The Research and Creativity Forum was also held at this time. Students who completed poster projects were able to display and answer questions about their work for the chance to win a scholarship award. Senior biology major, Jenna Tegtmeyer, presented at this time. Her poster presentation was entitled, “Insights into the Mechanism of Heme Transfer from PhuS to Heme Oxygenase in P. aeruginosa,” showcasing research on the bacteria, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which infects individuals with compromised immune systems. Tegtmeyer completed this research at the undergraduate program in the bioinorganic chemistry department at North Dakota State University.
Following this was Music, Movement & Words, a session dedicated to Creative Writing and Performing Arts. Senior Marisa Donnelly read poetry during this session. “It was so wonderful to see the talent of different people and the emotion that was brought into their work,” Donnelly said. “One student did an interpretive dance in which she contorted her body to reflect the misery her character experienced after her lover’s death. Another student read a non-fiction slam poem, expressing her struggle with parasomnia, night terrors and irrational fears she has while sleeping.”
Friday and Saturday of the convention were similar. There were presentations in the morning, meetings with the Alpha Chi Regional Chapters, and informative sessions. Each presentation was fifteen minutes, with a short break in-between that allowed students to travel to different rooms to hear other presentation topics. The genres included American History, Communication, Creative Writing, Art/Music/Dance, Anthropology, Health Sciences, Religion, Education, Molecular/Cellular Biology, and Psychology among others.
Waldorf University senior, Molly Maschka, also presented at the 2015 Convention. Molly’s non-fiction piece was entitled, “Da’s Girl,” which was a short story from a collection of memoir pieces exploring her childhood relationship with her father.
When asked about her experience presenting, Maschka said, “I was extremely nervous to the point my hands were shaking. I am normally not a person who likes to present in front of people, but I knew I wanted to get out of my comfort zone. Yet, as words started to come out of my mouth, my nerves started to clam down. Presenting wasn’t as bad as I thought. It gave me a huge confidence boost!”
Despite nerves, both girls did a wonderful job.
Other Waldorf attendees at the 2015 Convention were senior Tara Kingland and junior Shaye Sutherland who both plan to attend next year. When asked about her convention experience, Kingland said, “I enjoyed the convention a lot! It was fun seeing fellow students from the nation with the same passion and desire to excel in their fields of study.” She expressed some fears as well, “When I first went, I was nervous that I would be out of place, not just because I am a nontraditional student, but also because I am not a literary student or a science student, rather I am majoring in graphic design. I wasn’t sure if there would be anything in the sessions I would be interested in. I was wrong.”
Both Kingland and Sutherland said that their favorite part of the weekend was meeting new people and building relationships with fellow students.
The Convention also offered Regional Meetings. In the Region IV meeting, in which Waldorf University is a member, delegates met and mingled over continental breakfast. The Alpha Chi 2015 Region IV Scholarship was also awarded to two students, one of which was Waldorf University’s junior Cody Clark for his promotional video showcasing senior soccer player, Andrew Larsen.
Other convention highlights were the Alpha Chi’s Got Talent on Friday night, a talent show of music, poetry reading, and piano playing. Meeting Reuben Ironhorse-Kent, Alpha Chi’s 2015 Distinguished Alumnus, who talked and played music. And the Evening Gala at the Nexus & the Arts on Saturday night, featuring keynote speaker Nnedi Okorafor, award-winning novelist of African-based science fiction, fantasy, and magical realism.
Okorafor spoke about her young adulthood. As one of the best tennis players in the state of Illinois entering college, a paralyzing scoliosis surgery changed not only her entire life, but also her identity. She turned to writing to both express and define herself. Her speech on that experience was inspiring for both writers and non-writers alike.
Free time was another important aspect of the convention. Students were given Friday afternoon to explore the city. The Waldorf group took advantage of that, heading to Giradanno’s first to try original Chicago deep-dish pizza, then Millennium Park, Navy Pier and the Ferris Wheel, and finally, the Skydeck to see the city lights at night.
Overall the convention was incredible. From exploring the city, to standing up at the podium with sweaty hands before reading poetry, to meeting Alpha Chi members from Hawaii to Texas, to trying sushi and deep dish for the first time, Waldorf University’s Marisa Donnelly, Molly Maschka, Tara Kingland, Jenna Tegtmeyer, and Shaye Sutherland are excited about the experience and the wonderful opportunities Alpha Chi can offer now and in the future.