Hometown Tourism: Reflections on the 2023 Sigma Tau Delta Convention by Ruth Kennedy
Sigma Tau Delta is an English Honor Society that has members all across the country. Bethany’s chapter, Alpha Rho Tau, which has a somewhat more fortunate acronym than Sigma Tau, is made up of English majors and minors. I have been a member since the end of my sophomore year, and have many fond memories of movie watch parties and yawping with my fellow Sigma Tau members. While the inbetween events we hold here at Bethany are near and dear to my heart, Sigma Tau’s biggest and most anticipated event of the year is its annual convention.
Last year, Bethany’s Sigma Tau chapter, including myself, got the opportunity to attend the Sigma Tau Delta convention in Atlanta, Georgia. It was a fantastic experience, where I learned a lot and saw even more. While I had visited Georgia in my younger years, I had never (at least in my memory) gotten to spend time in Atlanta. That trip fueled my love of travel and gaining new experiences in interesting places.
This year’s Sigma Tau Delta convention was held in Denver, Colorado. I live in Brighton, a suburb less than an hour away from Denver. While my trip to Atlanta was an opportunity to experience a new place, this convention would see me being a guest in my own home state. It was almost surreal to think about, being on a “vacation” of sorts while driving by gas stations and billboards I had known my whole life.
As the day of the convention drew nearer, my fellow convention goers began turning to the most convenient source of information on all things Colorado–or, as it turns out, a couple things Colorado. When my fellow students began asking me what to do and where to eat in Denver, I was only able to shrug and give vague answers. For someone who lives less than an hour away from a major city full of exciting things to do and see, I do not spend a lot of time there.
On this trip, I came to realize that most of what I knew about Denver was filtered through the lens of my family and the kinds of activities that we had been doing there for years. I had never really had the chance to explore Denver with people who did not already have a strong preconceived notions of what the city was like. Seeing this common, yet unfamiliar, part of my life through the eyes of friends who were forming their opinions of Denver and my home state right there and then was a strange and unique experience.
The surreal nature of going on a vacation to my home state started before we even got there. Our group took a van to Colorado, and we went on the exact same route through Nebraska that I have driven more times than I can count, first to visit Midwestern relatives, then to go to and from college. It was strange, being on such a familiar route with someone who had never seen the weird bridge museum on that one spot of the Nebraska highway or didn’t know what a Runza was. And while I may bemoan the Nebraska route with all I’ve got, the drive was made a bit more interesting with new sets of eyes taking in the scenery.
When I say that this was a bit of a homecoming for me, I truly mean it. The AirBnB that we stayed in was in my hometown of Brighton, but it wasn’t on my side of Brighton. Instead, it was in one of the many, many new neighborhoods that I have spent years watching pop up in Colorado with a tenacity and speed that would put the most fearsome of weeds to shame. Even when I wasn’t in a familiar neighborhood, it still felt like Colorado.
The convention itself had everything that a great gathering of a bunch of English nerds should have. There were presentations and papers on all sorts of topics, from Frankenstein to Taylor swift. I got the chance to buy and read the convention’s common reader, The Rock Eaters by Brenda Peynado, which I would highly recommend to anyone who enjoys magical realism or just plain good writing. This was a special year for our group, as two members of our Sigma Tau Delta chapter, fellow seniors Jerod Harris and Libby Kassuelke, presented pieces at the convention. Both wrote beautiful creative nonfiction pieces that reflected on their relationships with different family members.
When we weren’t busy attending the convention, our group took the chance to explore a small taste of what Colorado has to offer. Much of our time in Denver was spent at the 16th Street Mall, an outdoor shopping center that cuts through several blocks of downtown Denver. The convention center was right in the heart of this shopping extravaganza, so we had easy access to the many shops, sights, and smells that the mall offers. It was one of those places in Colorado that I might have gone to one time in middle school, but I honestly can’t remember. I was ecstatic to find all the joys I find in travel–new food, new sights, new people–were found in a place that I could easily go back to some day.
We also took the opportunity to head towards the Rocky Mountains, Colorado’s claim to fame. After the convention was finished, we visited Red Rocks, an outdoor amphitheater that features an incredible concert venue. While we had a bit of a climb to reach the top, it was well worth it for the stunning view. We lucked out when it came to weather this trip, and the clear skies gave us a picture-perfect view of the foothills, the Denver-Metro area, and the plains. While I can sometime take parts of Colorado for granted, the mountains have never been one of those things, and I was able to share the group’s awe at how beautiful they are.
While I was falling back in love with my state, I was also very aware that the company that I kept was what made the trip special.
On the way back from the convention, on the long road through Nebraska and Iowa, there wasn’t much for me to do except get lulled into multiple naps and do some reflection. My return back home for the convention came about a month and a half before I am set to graduate. I am planning to return to my family in Colorado for the foreseeable future, a fact that I have not had the chance to mull over in the whirlwind bustle of the end of my time in college. This trip both reminded me what I am going back to, and threw into sharp relief what I am leaving behind.
Through my friends’ eyes, I got to relearn just how exciting and beautiful Colorado is. There is so much of Denver that I’ve never seen, and now I want to go back and explore even more of it. The way they saw Colorado also reminded me how gorgeous the landscape can be. Living there, it can be easy to focus on the brown that comes with an almost perpetually dehydrated state, but I was reminded of the great blue sky, the stunning red rock, the majesty of the purple mountains, always standing proud in the distance.
While I was falling back in love with my state, I was also very aware that the company that I kept was what made the trip special. One of the biggest factors in my enjoyment of my home state was that I was with friends. They were curious, and while there were many questions I did not have answers to, I still had so much to share, and the joy that comes with having eager ears to listen. Without them, it would have been just another trip home, albeit with a higher concentration of English nerds. I was lucky enough to get another chance to bond with some amazing people in a place I love.
While the trip was full of good memories, there is one that holds a special place in my heart. On one of the nights of our stay in Colorado, we made it back to our AirBnB before the sun set. Once we realized that the nearby walking trail would give us an excellent view of the sun setting over the mountains, all of the students raced out to catch the sun before it was hidden by the mountains. I’m not sure any of us were wearing shoes, but the sky was simply too beautiful to care. It was the same feeling as playing in the cul de sac as a child until dinner time, or standing on the front step of my own house on a summer evening. It was beauty enjoyed with others, expressed wildly and with an abundance of joy.
My graduation is a bittersweet thing, leaning more towards bitter or sweet depending on the day. The bitter is in the end of this chapter in my life coming closer and closer, diverging paths with many amazing people, and not knowing what the future holds. But whatever happens, it cannot erase the sweetness from my past, the memory of running barefoot towards the sunset with my friends and a thousand other little things. I may no longer be able to see these people everyday, but I am going back to a place where we made memories together.