In early March, Jonathan Wharton, Stevens Renaissance, had dinner with brothers from the two chapters he volunteers with to celebrate his birthday. At the time, concern about the novel coronavirus was growing nationwide. Still, none of the brothers from Stevens Institute of Technology or the University of Connecticut expected that the looming statewide shutdowns in New Jersey and Connecticut would go on for months — making those two dinners the last time they’d see each other face to face for a while. Looking back, they’ve come to appreciate the gatherings as a reminder to enjoy life’s little moments and never take their brotherhood for granted.
Wharton met up with 12 brothers from SigEp’s New Jersey Alpha chapter for a celebration that included dinner, cake and the requisite round of “Happy Birthday.” The gathering also doubled as the chapter’s midterm etiquette dinner. Wharton last taught at Stevens six years ago, but has continued to lead the dinners. So, it was only natural that the chapter’s celebration of Wharton’s birthday would involve getting together over a good meal. It was a joyous occasion, with everyone sharing updates about their lives and ideas for the chapter.
“The dinners always lead to great conversations where we not only learn etiquette, but also get to know more about our brothers,” noted Chapter President Daniel Raleigh, Stevens ’21.
Brothers had heard concerns about COVID-19 being discussed in the news, but that night was just about enjoying another midterm dinner out with the guys.
A couple of days later, Wharton attended Connecticut Alpha’s last chapter meeting before spring break, which turned out to be the last in-person meeting of the semester. Since Wharton serves as advisor for Connecticut Alpha’s SigEp Learning Community, Chapter President Ross Bodington, Connecticut ’21, had invited him to the meeting to say a few words to the chapter before joining him and several other brothers for dinner.
“Not only did we indulge in the best nachos in the northeast, but we were able to start a great dialog about our chapter,” Bodington shared.
While rumors loomed about a potential shutdown in Connecticut, the evening was about discussing ideas, catching up and enjoying each other’s company.
Typically, Wharton visits each of the chapters three times a semester. He said when he thinks back on those two meals now, he’s appreciative that he was able to get together with both groups just prior to the shutdowns, especially since it turned out to be his last chance to see some of the graduating seniors.
“Not being able to see brothers in person has really made me think about the little comforts you take for granted, like a handshake or a hug,” Wharton added. “There’s genuine affection and concern that comes through one on one that you just can’t get through an online interaction. A lot of the guys have told me that’s something that they miss a lot.”
For the brothers of Connecticut Alpha, this dinner now holds a special place in their hearts. “Sometimes the best memories are formed when you least expect it,” Bodington remarked. “No one could have expected the change the pandemic was going to bring, but I am grateful we had one last dinner together.”
For Raleigh, that last dinner out with New Jersey Alpha was memorable because it might have been the usual etiquette dinner, but it was during an unusual time. “I am unsure when the next time I’ll get to see this group of mostly graduating seniors again will be,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on this dinner, and I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Although campus shutdowns kept brothers at Connecticut and Stevens from enjoying more moments like these in person, they were able to quickly shift chapter operations online. Raleigh and Bodington stayed in touch with chapter volunteers, and the chapters held meetings and programming virtually.
“Thankfully, not only did our AVC have our backs during this, but thanks to a connection made through Wharton, I was able to brainstorm with Raleigh over Zoom,” Bodington stated.
One good thing that has come out of the quarantine is that Wharton encouraged the two chapter presidents to exchange programming and recruiting ideas. “I was hopeful that they would recognize they’re not alone in this socially distant and virtual meeting era. Both presidents share a certain enthusiasm that is so infectious that I didn’t want to see them lose their spirit,” offered Wharton. “Maybe this pandemic can be a reminder that chapters must connect with one another more often.”