Phi Theta Kappa’s International Conference Sparks Unity Among Student Attendees

Campaign team volunteer shares her impactful experience.

By Abby Paulus
Staff Writer

From April 3-7, Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society held its annual International Catalyst Conference, as well as elections for international president and four vice president positions, in Kissimee, Florida.

During these four days, ARCC student Jack Yates ran for the international president position and I was a member of the campaign team. He represented the Cambridge campus Phi Theta Kappa chapter, Alpha Delta Upsilon, while campaigning to create change on campuses and within communities related to making college more affordable.

Cambridge campus Phi Theta Kappa chapter and advisor spending free time at Disney Hollywood Studios (Left to Right: Arian Timm, Ann Pelzel, Abby Paulus, Drew Brinker, Madilyn Wallace, Jack Yates, Axel Kylander). Photo Credit: Abby Paulus

The theme of the conference focused on putting aside differences and growing together as human beings and this is exactly what happened within our campaign team. As I experienced, our team grew closer to each other, as well as to the other attendees (which totaled nearly 4,000 people). We improved our communication skills by working at Yates’ booth and handing out flyers. Yates said that “it was great to connect with others and inspire the LGBT community, a group that sometimes feel that their voice is not heard.”

ARCC student Madilyn Wallace, a member of the campaign team, stated, “Working with a group of people with the same intentions, with the same end game, is amazing.” One of the keynote speakers, Chef Jeff Henderson, shared similar statements in his keynote speech. “Everyone in this room is extraordinary for different reasons…you are special because you made it to this plateau.”

Jack Yates (right) and members of his campaign team after the first campaign team meeting. Back Row: Abby Paulus, Madilyn Wallace, Jack Yates
Front Row: Jay Johnson, Axel Kylander
Photo Credit: Abby Paulus

When asked about his competitors, Yates echoed these same inclusive sentiments. “All candidates wanted each other to succeed. I know that I will have lifelong friends from this group.” Most of our campaign team approached this experience expecting rivalry, but were instead met with support. In fact, Yates’ favorite memory from the conference was the stressful moments leading up to the announcement of the two final candidates. As soon as the finalists were chosen, and Yates discovered that he was not one of them, the candidates joined in a massive group hug backstage to congratulate and support them.

At the beginning of the campaign process, Yates stated that he was nervous about being interviewed in front of the entire conference assembly by the sitting international officers and about sharing his story. He also felt excited to gain campaigning experience and connect with others, even if he didn’t win.

Drew Brinker, Yates’ campaign manager, summarized, “Along the campaign trail, we were met with uncertainties, fatigue, and frustrations, yet none of these compared to the enriching experience of engaging with students from around the globe.”

After speaking with other attendees and viewing candidates’ interactions with them, members of the campaign team observed that almost every candidate, including Yates, had an important impact on others at event.

The hard-working candidates with their campaign managers. Photo Credit: Abby Paulus

We were not only able to meet the candidates before the election, but we got the privilege to meet with many of them after they were elected. Most of the newly elected international officers were humble and kind, while the runner-ups were equally gracious. They all had opened up about personal experiences and shared their passion to improve Phi Theta Kappa as part of their campaigns. This conference showed us that negative situations can have positive outcomes, that discussing your downfalls can be a sign of bravery.

Although the campaign process can be stressful and even intimidating, it allowed the campaign team to network with all kinds of people. The conference also encouraged our professional performance and provided us with unexpected friendships. Wallace stated, “Sometimes the only thing that a person needs is to remember to have fun.”

The theme of unity and acceptance carried into a dance party and unplanned pool party after the election. Candidates, campaign teams, and conference attendees came together to sing, dance and laugh. Yates explained, “No matter what, we all did the best we could and if you inspire one person, the whole thing was worth it. We had to work together to overcome differences.”

The overall amount of acceptance and support that emanated from Phi Theta Kappans was overwhelming and had a positive impact on candidates, campaign teams and attendees, who  generally expressed that they were not scared to be who they truly are at the conference.

We were all one. At the end of the last night there, hundreds of attendees were outside in the warm, Florida weather when one student started a chant: “Who are we?” Attendees responded “PTK!” My personal reaction was that this sense of unity in that moment was truly amazing and made me feel part of something much bigger than myself.

Phi Theta Kappa’s annual Catalyst conference was not a place for a person’s PTK experience to end, but rather to launch the attendees into something bigger and better, as Yates stated. We were all able to grow closer as Phi Theta Kappans, but more importantly, as human beings. The conference taught us that no matter what our backgrounds are, we are all destined for something great. Candidates, campaign teams and attendees came together to support each other and to show others what it is like to live cohesively without judgement.