It’s More Than a Secret Handshake


Leading up to the initiation, my pledge class met to reflect. We had a chance to talk about how we were feeling, and each girl spoke about her admiration for her sisters and the bond that she felt. When my turn came, I said: “I feel like many of you don’t really know me…but I’m excited to show you.”

I was the only girl to mention such feelings of anonymity, but it wasn’t meant as a complaint. I realized that if they didn’t know me by now, it was my responsibility to show them.

I was warned that initiation would be a unique experience. All I knew was to show up wearing all white. I talked with my pledge sisters beforehand and we reveled in the possibilities: Maybe we would be pelted with paintballs, or drenched until our clothes were transparent, or maybe they knew the mystery would be psychological torture and they wanted to watch us squirm. (In hindsight, I don’t know why we had such awful expectations. It’s not like they ever took our lunch money.)

In the end, it was none of the above. The initiation ceremony is a strict ritual that’s carried out exactly the same way for every chapter, both past and present. I could meet any girl from my sorority, from any school, and share the same experience. (Sorry — can’t spill here. Sister’s honor.)

I can say, though, that the exchange of secrets brought me closer to my sisters.  Every sorority and fraternity, of course, has secrets. When you learn what they are, you’re taught how to prove you’re one of them — and without that knowledge, you aren’t really a sister.

The secrets also come with rules. They’re never to be spoken around non-members and most are never to be written down, only to be shared Beowulf-style. Just out of curiosity, I tried to Google some of my sorority’s secrets after initiation. It made me proud to see that not one of my 235,000 living sisters had leaked them to the web.

It’s not that the secrets are ground-breaking (I didn’t learn if there is life on Mars or the key to happiness). But they symbolize trust and unity. Sororities use initiation to make their members feel that they are part of something exclusive, something that is proof that they are wanted, trusted, and appreciated.

So I guess maybe I do feel different. Initiation was beautiful and formal, like a church wedding. It allowed me to join the ranks of an exclusive league of women, bonded by a common experience.

I also feel pretty cool, sort of like I’m a part of a Fight Club. Because whenever anyone asks about initiation, there’s only one thing to say: “Sorry, it’s a secret.”