Finding brotherly love after finding my true self
Even 20 years later, I can vividly remember the moment from my junior year of college like it was yesterday. I stood on the massive stage of the university auditorium representing my Fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon, along with nine seniors from other organizations across campus. I could see all of my Fraternity brothers anxiously awaiting the result in the first several rows closest to the stage. As the announcer called my name to become Ball State University’s homecoming king, my heart skipped a beat. I walked toward the front of the stage in shock, and my brothers leapt out of their seats in celebration.
Throughout my college experience, my Fraternity brothers were there for me every step of the way. My win was their win. Looking back, I can see that my SigEp experience was one of the most impactful on my life and that SigEp’s cardinal principles of Virtue, Diligence and Brotherly Love truly shaped me into the man I am today.
But the journey to become that man — to become “all of me” — has not been easy. What people saw on the outside was the success from an esteemed college career full of accolades and honors, including becoming the region’s J. Edward Zollinger Outstanding Senior. However, no one could see how I had deliberately hid my full self from everyone I knew to protect my secret.
Throughout college and until this year, I hid the fact that I was gay — even from those who cared about me the most, including my SigEp brothers. I blocked out those lifetime bonds out of fear of judgement. I avoided going back for homecoming, I avoided reunions, and despite how much I wanted to reach out to my brothers to see how they were doing, I avoided re-connecting for 20 years.
I landed a job on Wall Street out of college and climbed the corporate ladder, but years of hiding took its toll on my happiness. The exhaustion of trying to be someone else was overwhelming, until one day, I decided to leave my successful career behind, pack my belongings into a storage unit and travel solo around the world.
I set out on a journey to discover my true self. Along the way, I realized writing was a way to help me heal and penned a memoir about my struggles and overcoming my secret. As I wrote, I couldn’t help but wonder what college would have been like if I could have been my full, authentic self and how meaningful the friendships I’d developed would be today if I had maintained them.
Last month, a week after I released my book about this journey, “I Almost Became Me,” I received a text message from my SigEp big brother sharing that he had read it. My gut instantly once again tensed with fear and anxiety. It was the first time we had talked since college.
He wrote, “You know there were so many guys that loved you for who you were (are), including me. I am so proud to call you a friend and a brother!”
Tears welled in my eyes. It felt like my soul was opening and I began to fully become me. The pressure I carried with me began to fall away. My big bro knew I was gay, but it didn’t matter. I am his little bro. I am his brother. I am a SigEp.
Over the next few weeks, many brothers who I had not spoken with in years began reaching out to tell me how proud they were of me. Even a former chapter volunteer reached out to me and has become one of my biggest supporters.
The support has been overwhelming, just like it was when I was onstage 20 years ago. Why did I feel that I couldn’t have a relationship with my brothers for so long? Why couldn’t I trust myself to know they would accept me — all of me — as I am?
As a SigEp, we follow a creed that states, “I believe that as a good fraternity member, I must share a rich kinship of spirit with my brothers. Yet I realize that the members must be men of diversified abilities and talents.” So as a fraternity, how can we continue to evolve to accept all brothers for our diverse characteristics?
I hope my story will inspire and help others who may feel they aren’t able to be their full selves, or encourage those who have become disconnected from brothers to reach out. The one thing I have learned through this deeply emotional journey is that brotherly love truly lasts a lifetime, no matter what struggles we may face.
Looking back, SigEp was where my journey began to become my authentic self. I wouldn’t be as successful in life if it weren’t for the lessons I learned in SigEp, and more importantly, if it weren’t for my brothers at Indiana Gamma who always embraced me – even before I embraced myself.
ABOUT CORY CALVIN
Cory Calvin grew up in rural Ohio. A 2001 graduate of Ball State University, Cory was a member of the Indiana Gamma chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon and served as vice president of programming. He attended Ruck Leadership Institute and was awarded the J. Edward Zollinger Outstanding Senior Award.
Cory began his career in New York City on Wall Street and went on to receive his MBA from the University of Florida. After 16 years as a corporate finance and strategy executive, Cory left the 9-to-5 world behind and now travels the globe and has visited all seven continents and over 40 countries (and counting). Cory’s first book, “I Almost Became Me: A Memoir” became an Amazon Best Seller in May 2019 and he seeks to inspire one million people in the next 10 years.