by Michelle Webb
High Plains Student Representative, 2010-2011
Fort Hays State University
It was November 2009. One of my English professors said that I should submit a paper to the Sigma Tau Delta convention. I had been inducted only the previous semester and wasn’t yet acclimated to the organization. As suggested, I went ahead and submitted two of my favorite papers—one about my grandfather and another about Willa Cather’s My Antonia. I clicked the “submit” button and went back into all-out student mode, placing the papers in the back of my mind. When the time came to release the names of those whose papers had been accepted, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I would be presenting both my papers at the Sigma Tau Delta International Convention in St. Louis.
As I mentioned, I was new to the organization—and the only member of the Rho Psi chapter who was traveling to St. Louis. After fundraising and making arrangements for the eight-hour trek, my professor and I were off. I was incredibly nervous; I had never presented papers before, and I had never traveled without a close relative or friend. I was not journeying with any of my English buddies, nor was I meeting up with a familiar face at convention. You know the poor 6th grader who, in terror, treads into the middle school hallway for the first time? That was me.
I attended presentations, keynote speaker lectures, and sessions (all of which were fantastic, I might add) and soon felt less and less antsy. As I was waiting in line to have Azar Nafisi sign Reading Lolita in Tehran (that’s right—she signed my book!), I heard some conversations that told me I could abandon my anxiety. In front of me, a lass and lad were arguing about which Poe work they thought deserved more merit: “The Black Cat” or “Usher.” Behind me, two young men were discussing how to diagram the sentence “Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.” I was in English heaven.
After that first night in line, I stepped into my element. I opened up to other students and advisors and made several connections within the organization. I also decided to go ahead and run for Student Representative, a position I had been eyeing on the Sigma website ever since I had found out my papers had been accepted. When I was selected to be the High Plains SR for the upcoming year, I was utterly thrilled. I realized that, in such a short time, Sigma had already provided several meaningful opportunities, and I was ready to start giving back.
Over the past year, I have been privileged to work with an outstanding group of leaders who have worked hard to improve Sigma Tau Delta—and the Pittsburgh convention—for its members. I have also, thanks to my network of contacts I met at convention, been able to help my local chapter at FHSU be more active and aware of all Sigma has to offer—the scholarships, the internships, the project grants, and so much more.
So if you’re the shy new middle school kid of Sigma Tau Delta, I challenge you to attend convention. Even if you’re not presenting papers or applying to be a SR, you can start making connections within an organization whose main purpose is to serve you—a fellow English lover. I’m not saying you have to step up as a Student Representative your first convention, but I am saying that convention can provide invaluable opportunities for you. You will be surrounded by literally hundreds of fellow English nerds—yes, the ones who laugh at “that’s what she read.” And you will have the opportunity to meet top-notch intellectuals and to expand your repertoire as a writer, a leader, and an English lover.