The Reader‘s archive is vast and varied, going back to 1971. Every day in Archive Dive, we’ll dig through and bring up some finds.
In the fall of 1987, S.L. Wisenberg decided to go through sorority rush at Northwestern. She was nervous but determined to be charming and witty and make friends with the sorority girls, who would love her and want her to join them and live in their houses and learn their songs and perform in their skits forever. Or at least for the next three years, after which the memories would sustain the friendships into old age.
Wisenberg was also 29 and an instructor at the Medill School of Journalism. She’d rejected sororities when she’d been an undergraduate ten years earlier out of a mixture of snobbishness and self-consciousness. “Now, I thought, I could take it. Maybe then I would have been awkward around young women blessed with supreme grace, accomplishments, but not now; I had proved myself on several fronts.
I’d interviewed Rosalynn Carter and a death row convict (separately). I’d found my way to a refugee camp in San Salvador. I’d spent days on end speaking French to a Tunisian in Paris. I’d registered voters and worked in a food co-op and knew how to make miso soup and tofu quiche. I’d had proposals of marriage, though I didn’t believe in the institution. During a ritual to bury cuteness, I’d written “cute” on a leaf in blood and rubbed it in the dirt.
Getting through a tea party at Beta Pi Acropolis would be a piece of cake.
Of course things don’t go exactly as Wisenberg planned, but the wonderful and beautiful thing about this essay is how she avoids the temptation to make fun of the sorority women and their rush rituals. Instead, it turns into a lovely meditation on time passing and how it feels to grow older and wonder about how your life would be different if you took a different path when you were young.