Presenting at the EGO Conference

conferenceBy Emily Bryce Swain

Staring in the mirror, I quickly realized how dorky my former choir concert clothes from high school looked on my twenty-year-old frame. Unearthed from the back of my closet, the black and pink floral dress and matching black “business” heels made me look more like a fifteen-year-old soprano nervous for her solo and less like the studious English undergrad look I was going for. Regardless, I rushed out the door with a folder in hand, cursing myself for not buying a pair of slacks the night before.

That morning I was headed to the English Graduate Organization and Sigma Tau Delta Conference, along with other members of Sigma Tau Delta. From my understanding, this conference had recently begun to allow undergrads in for the first time. As a result, the members of Sigma Tau Delta were encouraged to submit academic papers about any book or topic, even though the theme of the conference was on “Economy.” Earlier that month, I submitted a paper I wrote for my English 299 methods course on Jane Eyre and the role of Christianity in the novel. My paper had been placed in a panel about “transatlantic women” (a term I ended up Googling the morning of) that I was expected to read out loud and discuss.

As I began to walk up to familiar Simpkins Hall, I became increasingly nervous. Was I dressed appropriately? What if the other two presenters on the panel had astoundingly better papers than I? What if I was the only undergraduate to show up? My hands began to shake and I pulled my folder to my chest as I entered the hall.

Upon walking in, I was greeted with the scent of coffee. I walked into the student lounge to find a slew of familiar faces dressed in business casual wear, like myself (albeit probably a bit newer than my five year old dress). Everyone was either walking around chatting or pinning on name tags casually while enjoying donuts and coffee. I set my purse down, took a deep breathe, and proceeded to eat at least five donuts while chatting with some friends. Instantly, I was feeling much calmer, until it was announced that the panels would be starting.

My panel, of course, was first. I sucked in some air and forced down a gulp of coffee before heading up the stairs.

Once again, I found that the nerves were not at all needed. I looked for the room number, only to find it was the same classroom I’d had class in only a semester prior. I settled myself down in the familiar seat as members of both EGO and STD
filed into the room. My fellow panelists chatted with me. In fact, before everything started, I found myself laughing as panelist Rebecca Gonner noted the absurd amount of donuts I consumed. The people in the room all made me feel relaxed and welcome before we even began reading.

Presenters Emily Bryce Swain, Rebecca Gonner, and Haley Helgesen stand with Dr. Helwig after presenting their panel "Transatlantic Women: Overcoming Patriarchal Obstacles" at the local conference

Presenters Emily Bryce Swain, Rebecca Gonner, and Haley Helgesen stand with Dr. Helwig after presenting their panel “Transatlantic Women: Overcoming Patriarchal Obstacles” at the local conference

When it was finally my turn, I walked up to the table and spread out my paper. To my surprise, all eight pages of the paper went by incredibly fast. There were moments I cringed at my wordiness or suppressed a laugh at the ridiculously pretentious diction I used, but overall I found myself feeling proud of the work I’d done. Years prior when I first entered into the English Education program, I never thought I’d be a good enough writer to be asked to speak at a panel, but here I was reading new academic work done on one of my favorite classics. In the end, everyone clapped, and one of my peers even raised his hand to compliment me on the work I’d done. When it was all over and I was asked to stand with my fellow presenters to take a picture, the smile on my face was one hundred percent genuine.