Going into my senior year of high school, I knew that I wanted to go out and explore a different part of Texas to get my college degree; I just did not know where. My girlfriend and I visited Baylor and walked around many other booths at our high school college fair. With so many different things going through my head, I did not know where to begin.
Neither my brother nor my sister went to college and my parents dropped out of high school. I knew a long road was ahead of me. Having said that, I was determined to overcome the challenges and be proud of something that I worked for myself. I applied to a couple of different colleges and accepted the offer to a small private university called Schreiner in the Texas Hill Country. Little did I know that the person who gave me my first campus tour was a brother of Phi Delta Theta. He was also my Peer Advisor, a person who is assigned to you in a group as a freshman. I went to Van for many questions on topics such as registering for classes and financial aid. He also became a friend as I was away from my real brother for the first time.
Difficulties arose in the middle of the semester when I found it hard to adjust and adapt to the college life of combining studying, working and free time. I found myself attending the free tutoring sessions for math to hopefully improve my grades, which would also help me accomplish my goal of graduating college and getting a diploma. Once again, I was clueless that my math tutor was also a Phi Delt, Matthew. The few times that I did get out and attend campus events, Phi Delta Theta was known and made a presence. I could not read Greek letters at the time, so the name was my only way to associate with the organization.
I did not known what a fraternity was. I attended an informational session where all of the pieces came together – Van and Matthew were members of this group. Not only did this catch my attention but so did the philanthropic organization that they served. It touched me personally. Back in 2001, my grandmother passed away from ALS. Before this, I had not been involved much with fundraising or walking with ALS. I thought it was an ultimate win-win situation for me, trying something new which I love to do, hanging around a great group of guys that helped me without me even knowing what they were apart of and trying to find a cure for ALS.
I joined Phi Delta Theta in the Spring of 2009. Taking on the Community Service Chairman position for my pledge class was an honor. Unfortunately, I got the chapter in some trouble with the school for trying to get donations from an unapproved source. The great thing is the active brothers at the time saw my drive and I did a presentation which helped me learn from my mistakes. After that, I went above and beyond to show the chapter what I am capable of. I even got in touch with a Famous Phi John Tyson to interview him.
Shortly after, I was a Brother of Phi Delta Theta Fraternity. There was a misunderstanding between my family and me about Greek life. I could not ask my parents’ or siblings’ opinions about joining such a group, because they did not have any experience with college activities. For example, when my brother was asking about school, he called the Fraternity a tribe.
The next semester, I was elected Community Service Chairman for the chapter. This was a highlight for me. After seven years of being an active Greek organization on campus, I led the chapter to our first Walk to Defeat ALS in San Antonio, Texas. It did not stop there. I organized multiple fundraising events on and off campus to help spread the word about ALS and get Texas Sigma on the map. In the end, our chapter won the inaugural Gehrig Gang Challenge which was between all the Phi Delta Theta chapters in Texas.
Going into my college career, I thought that I was in this by myself. College was something new for me, and it was a true experience that may not have happened without joining Phi Delta Theta. Looking back now, my brothers carried me through this tough time. The leadership experience that I gained from the chapter is amazing. It is great to know that I was a part of a milestone within our chapter. You may be surprised about what can be accomplished when only a handful of brothers come together. “Become the greatest version of yourself” was exactly what I did.
What makes me smile is that I did not do this as a “resume building activity”; I did this because I enjoyed it. Since the Spring of 2009, I am still shocked about the achievements in my life. Many have happened primarily because of Phi Delta Theta, and I haven’t even graduated yet which was my first goal. Proud to be a Phi!
Stephen Mendoza was born and raised in Houston, Texas. He started his college career at Schreiner University in Kerrville, Texas where he pledged Phi Delta Theta. After two years, Stephen decided to transfer to The University of Texas at Austin to continue his education. He is currently working on his Bachelor’s degree in Advertising with a Business Foundations Certificate. Stephen works for H-E-B, where he is a Management Intern.