Yes – one simple word. Just three letters. Yet it has the power to change your life.
I remember sitting in my sixth-grade class. It was a Friday, and we had a substitute teacher. She rolled out the big, dusty, boxy television which could only mean one thing: movie day. On this day, we watched something different from our typical viewing of “Bill Nye the Science Guy” videos. We watched a movie called “Yes Man,” where the main character is challenged to say yes to everything, to open his horizons and chase new opportunities – to change the trajectory of his future.
While at the time, 12-year-old me didn’t realize it, the lessons I took away from this one Friday would carry through, to the rest of my life.
I began saying “yes,” to things I was unsure about, to things that were unusual and even to things that scared me. I realized that some of the things I was declining to do, could have been leading me to the best times of my life.
Each day, I made a conscious effort to be more willing to step outside of my comfort zone and say yes to doing things that were out of the norm for me.
Fast-forward seven years from that Friday. I am freshman in college going through the sorority recruitment process, one of the most intimidating yet thrilling things I have ever subjected myself to.
I had just up and moved 1,000 miles away from home to where I didn’t know anyone. My first week away at school, I walked in and out of 18 sorority houses, meeting more than 100 girls, trying to find my people in this new place that I would eventually grow to call home.
It is like a semi-superficial draft in a sense. You walk into every house on sorority row and have a 30-minute conversation with a chapter woman. Based on that conversation, she decides if you’d be a good fit there. If yes, you come back for another round. If not, you are dropped and not welcome back the next day.
Along the way, you drop houses and houses drop you. Every morning, I gathered at my home base with a knot in my stomach wondering “who’s going to be left on my list today?” The stress, anxiety and self-doubt grew throughout the week for me.
“Am I pretty enough? Funny enough? Intelligent enough? Why don’t they want me?” I thought. When houses I liked dropped me, it was hard to not ask myself those questions.
I asked myself, “is this even worth it?” as I watched the girls next to me cry or even some, drop out of the recruitment process. Nevertheless, I stuck things out, being my most authentic self every party of every round. By the end of the week, I had my top two houses left. I knew I’d be happy in both places but pictured myself in one of them more than the other.
After the grueling week-long process came Bid Day. Everyone gathered in the arena and anxiously awaited the opening of an envelope which enclosed the sorority that would be their home. The minutes seemed like hours as I waited to see where I received a bid.
I crossed my fingers and toes that my preferred house to want me as badly as I wanted them. Butterflies overwhelmed my stomach in those moments that seemed to be everlasting.
“Open your envelopes,” my Pi Chi’s yelled. Frantically, I ripped open my envelope to see the three words that I did not want to see in that moment – “Alpha Epsilon Phi,” it said. Most around me cheered and shrieked and cried happy tears. I sat there saddened and feeling rejected in disbelief.
At this moment, I was faced with a decision to make: yes or no.
I liked AEPhi, but I didn’t know that I’d fit in so easily there. I wasn’t like the other girls in the house, as it is a Jewish sorority and I am Catholic, so I didn’t know if I would be accepted at first. Would my religion ostracize me? I was scared I’d be an outcast because of my beliefs.
“Should I give it a chance?” I asked myself. Unsure and scared, I made the best decision of my life in that moment.
I said yes.
I told to myself, “Try, fail, learn. At least if this isn’t what I think it is, I’ll learn something from it.”
I was welcomed into this sisterhood with open arms. Everyone wanted to get to know me for who I really was. Nobody batted an eye when learning that I was Catholic. They asked questions to understand my upbringing and beliefs. I met sisters, turned best friends, turned roommates who bought a Christmas tree for our apartment.
I was broken out of my shell, feeling comfortable being 100% undeniably myself every minute of the day. I have never felt judged, which I was unsure would be possible being it is such a superficial process.
Every time I walk into the house, I am hugged, smiled at and waved to as if my sisters haven’t seen me in months when in reality, I saw them hours before. Every exam I have my phone blows up with 50 “good luck” messages, and every time I fly home I am wished “safe travels” by many.
I have never felt as seen or celebrated as an individual as I do being a member of this chapter.
My Greek Life experience has been the backbone of my college journey thus far, providing me with all the resources I have needed to flourish in every aspect of my life. Upperclassmen took me under their wing right away, making sure that I always got home safe. Older girls in my major always pointed me at what classes to take and who to take them with.
My first time airing on the news, the girls had a watch party at our sorority house like I was appearing at the Grammy Awards, when it was a minute long piece on the local news channel.
My sisters have been there with me to celebrate my highest highs but are also the ones who pick me up when I have been at some of my lowest lows. I know that we will continue to be that person for each other beyond our college years.
AEPhi may not have been what I wanted, but it is what I needed. A life without it is unimaginable.
I learned that it is okay if things don’t always go as planned. Sometimes, that is when the magic of life happens.
And to think that one simple word changed the trajectory of not only my college experience, but my life beyond it.
That one “yes,” led me to many more “yes’” along the way, which have shaped me into the person that I am today.
I have learned that it is better to progress through my life by learning from my experiences rather than wondering “what if?”. By pivoting my mindset, I have been able to see and do some of the most amazing things, meet my most favorite people and make the most beautiful memories.
All because of one simple word.
Bio: Emily Palazzotto is from Long Island, New York, and is currently a Junior at the University of Florida studying Journalism on the TV News Track.