Sigma Tau Delta Conference Reflections
Several weeks ago, five members of the Merrimack College chapter of Sigma Tau Delta flew to Louisville, Kentucky to present at our first academic conference. This is a follow-up to the article I wrote for the last issue of The Broadsheet. To write the sequel, I asked my co-presenters to check back in and share experiences from the trip. Though we were well prepared for the presentations, it felt surreal reading in front of academic peers and then watching as strangers engaged us about our papers. For my part, the opportunity to present and also explore a new city made it well worth the week of editing and all the time it took to write the paper in the first place. Life lesson: hard work really will pay off in a big way.
This was the first scholarly convention that I have attended and my first paper presentation. It was a genuinely amazing experience, from the travel to Kentucky as part of an English major entourage to the individual sessions at which we presented. Being surrounded by peers whose passion for literature and writing matched my own was something that was truly special and inspiring. I read my paper at a session specifically focused on close-readings of Shakespeare and listening to fellow panelists was so humbling and comforting because these were people my own age who were interested in the same kind of texts and ideas that I have become passionate about. I learned so much and their papers were so well articulated and intriguing; I was surprised at the fact that, instead of feeling unworthy to present in the same room with them, I felt proud that I qualified to share the podium. When I stepped up and began to read my work to an attentive audience I instantly felt like I had stepped in to join that ongoing conversation about literature I had heard and read about. It was a surreal moment for me. More than anything, I want to continue reading and writing, so that I can stand up at that podium again. I urge all those who have the opportunity to speak and be heard to do it. You will find it liberating; it is an experience I now hold dear.
For me, the best part of the conference was finding my passion again. It was sitting in sessions, local hangouts, the bar where F. Scott Fitzgerald was inspired to write The Great Gatsby, and playing a rather horribly executed round of pool where I was finally able to get out of my everyday rut and just be myself again.
As an English major, and more importantly, as a writer, I spend a lot of time stuck in my own head, wondering if what I have to say is institutionally correct; but there I stood reading the most unconventional of papers and I was suddenly able to see that the people that laughed when I began were amazed and impressed when I finished. For me, the greatest part of Louisville wasn’t the conference, the acceptance, the cool pubs, or even the chicken and waffles. The greatest part of Louisville was feeling and hearing my heartbeat again. From there I was able to start thinking again, really thinking, about what it all means to be a writer, a scholar, and in the case of many pieces I heard, a woman in this field.
I’ll admit that at first the thought of going to an international conference made me nervous, but it turned out to be one of the best academic experiences that I’ve ever had. Most people attending the conference were either presenting papers or chairing events, which made it fairly easy to get to know other attendees.
It was also nice to know that everyone there had something in common. Presenting was a lot of fun in that we got to talk about subjects that we love with other people who were passionate about the same thing, people who cared enough to want to know more or question your thoughts. I also feel really lucky to have gone with such a great group of people; everyone was eager to see what the conference had to offer. The moment we landed in Louisville everyone was looking for events to attend and places to go. During the day we went to different analytical and creative panels, and then we explored the city in our free time, going everywhere from a small pool hall to the hotel at which F. Scott Fitzgerald worked. Overall, it was a great experience and my only regret is that I won’t get to go again next year!
The conference was an amazing experience, both as a student, and a writer. Seeing the other presentations, as well as listening to the other panelists in my own session, gave me so many new ideas, and new ways of looking at old ones. The subjects ranged from Gothic literature in the age of the computer, and what stories do for video games, to classic points of conversation, like Shakespeare, or Chaucer (and yes, even Milton).
However, I have to say that much of the experience was not from the convention itself, but the exploration and bonding that the group of us shared on our trip. Whether it was getting “Lost” looking for a billiards hall, or stumbling onto restaurant after restaurant, the experience brought everyone in the group so much closer, and even though I’ve only gone this one year, it will be an experience that I will miss each year going forward.
So, I’ve made it far enough in my academic career not only to attend an academic conference, but to have the incredible opportunity to have a paper accepted for presentation. This year’s Sigma Tau Delta International Honors Society Conference in Louisville was the reason behind so many of these firsts in my life. As I said, it was my first time at a conference and presenting a paper.
It was also my first time off the East Coast, and my first time flying. Honestly, I was way more nervous about navigating the airport and catching flights than I was about presenting. As silly as this might sound, I felt so grown up in a way, as all those creative stories I told at sharing time in preschool culminated in the sharing of my own literary analysis. Hearing the presenters in some of the other sections made me feel like a part of a larger discussion on works I have read, and I enjoyed hearing about poems and stories I hadn’t read yet to discover new additions to my academic reading list.
I loved touring Louisville; it is an amazing city! There is so much to do, and even though we packed those four days full of restaurants, adventure, and conference activities, I still can’t wait to go back and continue exploring (and enjoying more hot browns and chicken & waffles). We found a pool hall built in an old bank and discovered how terrible we all are at the game, followed a restaurant passport tour all the way to the hotel that inspired The Great Gatsby, and visited an Insta-famous doughnut shop to try out crazy flavors like Captain Crunch and bacon.