Alabama advisor Necia Nicholas, center, with her chapter at PTK Catalyst 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee.
Editor’s Note: This post was written and submitted by Necia Nicholas, Associate Regional Coordinator for the Alabama Region and advisor to the Sigma Lambda Chapter at Calhoun Community College.
Why Join? Ask me why.
Why spend the money you’ve saved to join this honor society instead of going out to dinner or purchasing a new pair of jeans? Why give some of your valuable time each week to sit in a meeting and work hours and hours researching ways to give even more of your time and effort to benefit others, others that may never see your face or hear your name?
Why, you ask? Let me tell you a story that answers that question. Now, bear with me while I set the stage…
This story begins with a high school dropout more interested in having a good time than a good GPA. Fast forward 17 years, and find this dropout thinking, “I know I’m meant to be more than this. I’m supposed to make money and do good things.” This nagging thought became a preoccupation that led me (yes, I’m that dropout) to register for classes at Calhoun Community College with the idea of getting into the exciting, new field of computer programming.
Fast forward again, one year later: my major had changed from computer programming to forensic science to pre-law. How many times can one change their major before landing in the right spot? Finally, in a biology class, I felt at home. I remembered that 30 or so years ago, as a child, I told my friend, “One day, I will be a scientist.” The pathway now became clear, biology research it was! Get that degree, then go on for higher degrees!
So, I began taking five classes a semester to make up for lost time. My days consisted of classes and more classes, working as a lab assistant, cleaning houses for three families, and bartending three nights a week. Oh, did I forget to mention I had three kids and a husband? They rarely saw me.
After one particularly exhausting day, I got a letter in the mail from the college. My first thought was, “Oh no, what have I done now?” To my surprise, it was an invitation to join some honor society that wanted money. Ha! I wanted money too! And there was precious little of that around.
A few days later, I casually mentioned the letter to my aunt while I was dusting her living room. I went on to scrub the toilets and never gave the conversation a second thought. Life continued on: work, work, work, classes, homework, classes, study, study, oh wait…kids, husband…sleep…nah, not so much!
The next week when I went back to clean for my aunt, she gave me some cash and said, “I talked to your granny, and she is so proud of you. She thinks this honor society thing is important, so she sent this money for you to join.” I cried. She hugged me and said, “Go do good things.” So, I joined.
The following semester, I became chapter president. However, the motivation to do so was simply the scholarship awarded for holding that title. I had no idea how that $1,000 would change my life.
I had a strong, dedicated officer team that organized service projects to collect books for elementary schools and diapers, coats, and food for needy families. We tutored disadvantaged elementary school children. We served every way and everywhere we found a need that we could meet. I brought my young daughters along when I could, and they inspired me even more when I saw service through their innocent eyes. To say this was life-changing does not give justice to this experience.
So now, let’s fast forward again. I’ve just finished graduate school, a high school dropout with a master’s degree, and I am consumed with a need to continue my research into breast cancer, which has taken the lives of my aunt and mother.
I decided to teach at my former community college until I could find my dream job in research. Instead, I was hired to teach full time and soon asked to become the advisor for my former chapter. My workload did not allow me to accept and I was heartbroken.
Two years later, I was asked again. Still bad timing, so after two weeks of trying to figure out a way to accept, I had to tearfully decline again.
The third time was the charm! The offer was made and I accepted. I cried in the vice president’s office as we discussed my new duties as chapter advisor. I wanted to immediately tackle everything. I found I had so much to learn, and so I immersed myself in all things Phi Theta Kappa. I found mentors; I asked questions; I read and read and read, slowly learning the ropes.
I was loving this experience and had a knowledgeable co-advisor to guide me. Thirteen months into this, it came time to prepare for international convention, and she was unable to attend. I was terrified! I can’t take 11 students alone! I don’t know enough!
Then came the really scary part; my dear granny, who had long ago paid for me to join this organization, was dying. She passed within days of our departure for Seattle. I felt so conflicted. I felt guilty for even thinking of not being there for her funeral, but I had made a commitment to these students. How could I let them down after they had worked so hard? How could I not be there for my family and not get to say goodbye to my granny?
As I sat on Granny’s bed sobbing, my uncle came to comfort me. He put his arms around me and said, “What would your granny tell you right now?” I laughed, for the first time in many days, and replied, “Stop slinging snot, dry your eyes, and do what you promised those students. There’s nothing you can do for me; take care of them.”
It was then that I remembered how she had known that Phi Theta Kappa would play an important role in my life and that I could use this experience to help others. So, when the day came, I boarded that bus to the airport at 3 a.m. and cried as I told my sleepy officers the story of my sweet granny.
While at convention, I just kept thinking how I should be with my family. Mom and my aunt were dead, so it was my role to step up and be there. I missed my granny, but it was her support of me from many years previous that held me up during this time. While my family was burying her, I sat at the awards gala, trying to cry silent tears, hoping my grief would not be noticed by my team.
At the end of the ceremony, we all walked out of the seating area, heading toward the exit door. But they stopped, and all 11 of them encircled me in the most loving, comforting bear hug I’ve ever had. They held me and let me cry, grieve, and soak in the Phi Theta Kappa family love.
While that was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, every year, with every team, there are moments that touch my heart and change the lives of students. I get the honor and privilege to share in that.
Now, do you understand why? How can you not want to be a part of something that provides student growth and also feeds your soul? This high school dropout is now a chapter advisor, an Associate Regional Coordinator, and a proud member and alumna of an organization that changes lives!
Believe me, I’ve lived it. I’m still living it and loving it!
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