Why I joined Phi Mu and the impact I have had on the Carolina community throughout my years are directly connected in a way very different than many people think.
In high school, I led my school’s Relay For Life team, set new records on funds raised and participants involved. When I first started the position as team captain, our team name was Walk with Caitlin. Caitlin was a sophomore at Virginia Tech when the massacre occurred and her life was taken much too soon. She was the first person to bring Relay For Life to my high school and our name shared that we would continue her legacy by walking with her even though she couldn’t physically be there. Our name changed half way through the year to Walk with Caitlin, Fly with Juliette. Juliette had battled cancer and won during her high school years and had recently started college. Her cancer returned and just days after initiating into her sorority and settling into her new college life she passed away, becoming our angel to fly with us at Relay.
I am from New York and didn’t know much about Greek life when I went through recruitment. I wasn’t completely sold that this was for me, because it was so culturally different than I was used to. During my preference round party with Phi Mu, two women stood in front of the room and began singing For Good from the musical wicked. I did my best to hold myself together but ultimately began crying. The sister I was speaking with immediately began asking if I was okay and comforting me. For Good was the song Caitlin had sang as her senior solo in my high school choir. It genuinely felt like she was there with me telling me this was home.
After running to Phi Mu on Bid Day, I immediately connected with many sisters that encouraged me to pursue a position with Colleges Against Cancer so I could help plan and facilitate Relay For Life at USC. It reassured me that found my home at USC and a group of women that would push me to become a better person.
The summer after my freshman year, I went home to New York to support my home Relay. There I ran into Mrs. Lia, Juliette’s mother. She immediately burst into tears and wrapped me in a hug. Since we hadn’t seen each other in so long, I didn’t think more of this than an emotional reunion. A few hours into the event, Mrs. Lia came up and asked me to walk a lap with her and just talk about life; this was one of the simpler things she missed doing with Juliette. She mentioned that she heard I had joined a sorority at USC and wanted to know which one. As soon as I said Phi Mu, she stopped where she was and started laughing. She shared with me that when Juliette was fighting her cancer for the last time, one of her last wishes was to be initiated into her sisterhood before her passing. She got her wish and couldn’t put into words what it meant to her. Juliette was a Phi Mu.
I’ve participated in Relay For Life at USC every year during my time here. I have been fortunate enough to serve on the executive committee many times, serve as the Executive Director of Relay For Life 2014, and founder of Bark For Life – USC. Every year while walking the track at Relay I think of Caitlin and Juliette, thanking them for not only pushing me towards this wonderful cause, but also for reassuring me that this sisterhood is so much more than I can ever put into words.
-Lora Stearns, Senior