I love to tell the following true story (especially to my children) about how important it is to not be afraid to be yourself.
Each fall in the 1980s the NDSU student organizations were able to nominate a candidate for king and a candidate for queen for the homecoming court. For some reason I managed to be a part of groups that seemingly had few female takers for the homecoming court interview. It was quite a process. Each candidate filled out an application of his/her accomplishments and then signed up for what was to be a short interview by a table full of interviewers. Each member of the selection committee asked one question about leadership, academia, values, etc. All were members of the NDSU staff with the exception of the student representative.
Following the interviews only the finalists, six men and six women were to receive a phone call letting them know they had been chosen. I can't speak for the guys, but how many young women sat home and waited by the phone wondering if they had been selected? The disappointment was palpable when scores of phones across campus and beyond were not ringing.
Somehow, I managed to be nominated multiple times during my undergraduate studies. Admittedly, I was not what most would consider to be serious homecoming queen material. I think I was either overly courageous or just a glutton for punishment, but when no one else volunteered from the speech team, or the wildlife society or the Public Relations Student Society of America, I would raise my hand. And each year my confidence and responses improved.
By my final year of school, I went for broke. I had nothing to lose. All the interview questions were serious and to the point and my responses well spoken until the very end. The last question was asked by the student rep who happened to be from one of the college frat houses. His name was Joe and he was a clown by nature, and I knew it. I took a breath before he spoke and he very seriously asked, "How do butterflies get home on a windy day?" Pause. "That's easy," I quipped, "They take the bus!" Pause. And then the room filled with laughter. I smiled and shrugged. Ask a silly question, and you will definitely get a silly answer out of this gal.
The best part was yet to come. That evening as the interviews dragged on in the student union, I walked through the commons area and overheard two young women nearby who were comparing answers. "What did you say for the butterfly question?" one asked. "I said they fly from tree to tree all the way home," and she mimicked hiding behind trees. "Do you know what I heard?" the second one said, "I heard somebody answered 'They take the bus!'" I could barely contain my laughter as I kept walking.
No greater compliment had I ever been given. Until that night when I received the call that I had been selected for the 1989 homecoming court. The truly amazing part? Eleven of the 12 candidates were from campus sororities and fraternities. All except me. Don't get me wrong. Some of my closest friends were part of the Greek scene, but I alone represented what was estimated to be close to 90 percent of the student body at the time. And while I didn't go on to become queen, I had a satisfaction that was so much greater. I was on the court, by just being me (with lots of practice.)