I am always grateful for the friends I have made in Knoxville and how sane they keep me during the craziness that is college, but of course, it's easier to be even more sentimental around the holidays.  This year, my core group of friends in Phi Mu (my roommates, Rachel and Lauren, and our neighbors, Kaeli, Caitlin and Lauren) and I decided to make inexpensive, crafty Christmas presents for each other.  It was so fun to all celebrate Christmas together and see what everybody came up with.  

Here are my presents all together:

Now for individuals:

 Kaeli's peppermint sugar scrub

 Rachel's ornament with the words of the Phi Mu creed inside

 Caitlin's coffee mug and fuzzy socks

Lauren Hendrix's wine cork Christmas tree ornament

Lauren Harris' apron

You can tell everybody put a lot of thought and effort into their presents, and I love them all.

Earlier that night, my friend Jordan, who I call "my best friend in my major," and I also exchanged presents.  I've mentioned her before, but Jordan has been such an incredible friend who I can't imagine not having in my life, and I just know we were not placed in each other's lives by chance.  She constantly challenges me to work harder and be a better person both personally and professionally.  We're so alike in so many ways, it's almost a little freaky.  Here are the presents she got me:

The print connects Washington, D.C.  and New York City.  Just one way Jordan and I are alike is the fact we both have dreams to move away to big cities and pursue our careers there.  Jordan wants to go to D.C., and I want to go to NYC.  I actually just got back from a trip to NYC where I conducted informational interviews with professionals whose careers I admire and work at PR firms I'm interested in working at.  Jordan was the one who actually gave me the idea to do that, as she had planned to do the same thing in D.C. right after the semester ended.  The print is so sentimental to me, and I can see it sitting on my desk at work.  Jordan and I have already gotten sad about leaving each other, because we usually discuss every detail of our schoolwork, internships and job search.  Good thing we have the exact same class schedule next semester to keep each other in sync, and we've already decided we'll be making lots of Megabus trips to see each other after we move.  Thank God for technology as well.  I just know we'll be texting multiple times a day to fill each other in on our every step as we move and become "big girls."

Sidenote - my trip went extremely well, and I met some really awesome people who work for great companies, and I'm excited to see where my future takes me!  

The bracelet says, "In A New York State Of Mind," which is also perfect for me, because NYC is pretty much constantly on my mind, and I love jewelry.

As I said before, these girls are truly my sanity in Knoxville, and I definitely do not take them for granted, especially considering we didn't become close until sophomore/junior year, and I know what college was like without them.  I'm definitely counting them as blessings this holiday season!  And isn't the time spent with your loved ones truly better than the presents?  I honestly think so.  Okay, I've been cheesy enough.  Happy holidays, y'all!  I hope everybody can celebrate them with your loved ones just like I am.

I've always known I loved my major, public relations.  I chose it as a high school senior and have stuck with it ever since.  However, after attending the PRSSA National Conference in Philadelphia, I'm even more in love with it, and I'm very eager to begin my career.  I am the president of my school's chapter of PRSSA (Public Relations Student Society of America), and that is how I got involved with attending this conference, which is one of the smartest decisions I've made.  At the conference, I had the opportunity to attend sessions about various topics related to industries within the PR field I'm interested in.  

At times, it can be scary to think about how I'm graduating and entering the job market in six months, because I often hear how hard it is to get a job and how college is the best time of my life, so I better enjoy it now. I know jobs aren't handed out, but I also know I'm doing everything I can to make myself a competitive candidate in the job market.  I've always known that if I continue to persevere, the right opportunity will open up at the right time, and this conference reassured that.  As for what people say about college being the best time of my life, they're right that college is pretty great.  There are a lot of perks, and I've made so many incredible friends and memories, but life can still be wonderful after I graduate.  There's so much to look forward to, and I can't wait to see where life takes me.  It's time to open a new chapter that will be filled with both ups and downs and a whole lot of learning moments.  The PRSSA National Conference again reassured me that the new chapter in my life can be just as wonderful as my current one.  

Not only did I become fired up about my career, but I love to travel, so I was grateful I got the opportunity to soak up a new city.  As I have done with all my blog posts about my travels, I've decided to create a day-by-day synopsis of my time in Philadelphia.

Day 1: Thursday, October 24
This day wasn't very exciting, because I didn't fly to Philadelphia until that night, but it was my first time to fly by myself.  I wasn't nervous, because I love flying and have flown to two other large cities this year, so I'm kinda used to it by now.  However, I was still proud to have accomplished flying solo and finding a shuttle much cheaper than a cab to get me to my hotel by myself.  I stayed at the hotel where the conference was held, the Loews Hotel, which was super nice.  After being greeted and taken care of by the nicest front desk staff and bellhop, I settled into my fabulous room in time to catch Scandal and rest up for a busy few days ahead!

Day 2: Friday, October 25
I woke up early to do some sightseeing, because this was some of the only free time during the day I had.  My adorable mom bought me a book that was essentially a tourist's guide to Philadelphia, so I planned some stuff out based on that.  I walked about ten blocks to the Independence Visitor Center in time for its opening at 8:30 a.m. to get my free tickets to Independence Hall, because I read in the book that tickets were given out on a first-come first-serve basis and went quickly.  Needless to say, I got tickets for the 9 a.m. tour with only three other people on my tour.  However, it was nice to have a small tour, because we were able to ask lots of questions and take our time.  If you're not familiar, Independence Hall is the building where both the Constitution and Declaration of Independence were signed, so it was pretty neat to stand in the exact spot where men like George Washington and Ben Franklin once stood and made history.

 Liberty Hall


Room where the Constitution and Declaration of Independence were signed

One of the ladies on the tour, Marina, was by herself as well, and she happened to be there for the PRSA International Conference, which took place at the hotel right across from mine.  We stuck together the rest of that morning as we toured, and she even treated me to some Starbucks!  I love life moments like that - doing something totally out of the norm, exploring a new city with new people.  It makes life exciting.  If only I had more money and time to do more of it.  Anyways...back to my tourist adventures.

Marina and I then went to see the Liberty Bell, which was right across the street from Independence Hall.  The Libery Bell Center had lots of information and pictures leading up to actually being able to see the bell itself.  It's crazy how many people would wait forever in long lines just to see, touch and even sit on the bell.  The bell was smaller, and the crack was wider than I had imagined them to be.

Marina and I met a man touring by himself, Sean, at the Liberty Bell Center, and the three of us decided to go to Philadelphia City Hall, because you can go to the very top and see a 360 degree view of the city.

City Hall

Top of City Hall that I rode where I rode up to

One of my childhood best friends, Lindsey, and some other officers from her PRSSA chapter at Loyola University in New Orleans, arrived around lunchtime, so I met up with them.  Lindsey had decided to stay in my room with me, and it was so nice to catch up with her, and I even got to tagalong with her friends the whole time.  For lunch, we went to a Mexican restaurant called El Vez.  The food was delicious, and the restaurant was so kitschy and original.

That afternoon, I went to a session hosted by the University of Florida's chapter titled "Develop Your Chapter by Building a Brand", followed by DePaul University's "After the Final Card: A Discussion of Effective Networking."  I then attended the chapter presidents' leadership workshop where Cassandra Bailey, principal at Slice Communications, presented.

That night, there was a Gatsby-themed Ivy Lee Club Opening Night Celebration (Ivy Lee is known as the founder of modern public relations).  They had food and a swing band and even handed out boas and fedoras.  It was really cute and a great way to kick off the conference.

Day 3: Saturday, October 26

Saturday morning was the chapter roll call and keynote address given by Mary Henige of General Motors.  During the roll call, my vice president and I sang Rocky Top to a room of thousands of people all by ourselves, which was a tad awkward, but some chapters only had one person representing them, so I guess it could have been worse.

Following that, I went to the chapter presidents' lunch, which was held on the 33rd floor of the hotel.  I got a great view of the Philadelphia skyline from there.

Not to mention this delicious chocolate mousse.

That afternoon, I attended the F.A.M.E. (Fashion, Arts, Music and Entertainment) PR session presented by Nicole Garner, CEO of The Garner Circle.  Next was Choosing the Agency Path with James Robinson and Morghen Johnson of APCO Worldwide, followed by Food PR with Ariana Stefanoni of Pepperidge Farm.

Lindsey and I went to dinner at Down Home Diner and got ice cream at Franklin Fountain, which resembled an old ice cream shop.  It was so cute.  And they had a seasonal pumpkin sundae?!  Count me in!

Day 4: Sunday, October 27

We started the day with a keynote address titled "Meet the living Legends of Public Relations" featuring Keith Burton of Brunswick Group and Knoxville's very own Mary Beth West of Mary Beth West Communications.  It was so great to finally meet her and see a Knoxvillian doing big things.  Their experience allowed them to give us a lot of valuable advice as we embark on our careers and made me very hopeful.

 Next was a session about Striving for Work-Life Fit with Dr. David Ballard of the American Psychological Association and Dr. Bey-ling Sha, professor and interim director in the school of journalism and media studies at San Diego State University.

We went to Reading Terminal Market for lunch, which reminded me of the inside of the Nashville Farmers Market.  There were several little food places to choose from and it was super busy.  I got a quick burrito before going to the PRSA General Session titled, "What's the Future of Business?"  Brian Solis of Altimeter Group spoke, and boy, was he a dynamic speaker.  He was funny, innovating and intriguing.  I'm so glad PRSA opened the session up to PRSSA.

That afternoon, I went to an entertainment PR session with Tammy Golihew and Jeff Tobler of Warner Bros. and Damian Holbrook of TV Guide Magazine.  Damian is a journalist, but Tammy and Jeff thought it would be beneficial for us to hear him speak, since PR professionals work so closely with journalists.  I'm so glad I got the chance to hear them speak, since I'm interested in entertainment PR.  I loved hearing how Tammy and Jeff followed their dreams of moving to LA in order to pursue their careers.  They even had cupcakes since they work on 2 Broke Girls and made a Facebook group for all of us in the session, because they said they want to keep up with us and hear what we're up to.

That night, I went with Lindsey and her friend James to meet up with one of their friends from school who just graduated and now lives right outside of Philadelphia.  We went to a sports bar called Field House, and Lindsey and I split an amazing pizza covered in yummy pesto!  It was close competition with my old stomping grounds, Brixx.

Day 5: Monday, October 28

The Loyola kids and I decided this would be the day we finally tried a Philly cheesesteak, but we couldn't decide between the two "legends" - Pat's or Geno's.  After consulting some Philadelphians and some of my UT friends who are from Pennsylvania, we decided to go for Pat's.  Sidenote: We downloaded an app called Uber that sent us a black car to take us from the hotel to Pat's, and it covered $20 of our ride since it was our first time to use it.  I recommend you check it out if you travel somewhere and need a cab!

It was a little intimidating to order at Pat's.  They have a sign that tells you exactly how to order it and instructs you to go to the back of the line if you mess up.  I forgot to mention "wid onions," and the older Italian man employee had to ask me, but thankfully I didn't get sent to the back of the line!  And the verdict?  Don't hate me!  It was good, but I honestly prefer the Philly cheesesteaks I've had at restaurants in Tennessee better.  I know, I know.  Just my humble opinion.

That afternoon, I went to a session called Juggling Life at an Agency with Jess Noonans of Burson-Marsteller, Joe Clarkson of Taylor Strategy and Nick Lucido of Edelman.  I really enjoyed this session, because they were all young professionals who were active in PRSSA when they were in college, and they gave great advice about the transition between being a college student and professional, which is just right around the corner.

That night was the awards ceremony and dinner.  Individual members and chapters were awarded and we ate yet another delicious meal.

I then went out with the crew from Loyola and one of their alums who was there for the PRSA International Conference and now works for IBM in New York.  Pretty cool.  I loved hearing about her experience and life in the city.

Day 6: Tuesday, October 22

This day was more of a half day, as my flight back to Nashville was in the afternoon.  I went to the farewell breakfast and a PRSA General Session, "Leaving Microsoft to Change the World" with John Wood of Room to Read.  It was quite humbling to hear how he left his successful job to help those in need.

Afterward, I ventured to one final sight I had yet to see.  I went to JFK Plaza and Love Park and got a picture with that famous sign.

 The most famous Philadelphian

Giant game pieces on JFK Plaza

It's hard to put this trip into words.  I learned so much about myself and the PR field and am so eager to begin my career.  I loved meeting other students who were as ambitious as me and professionals who showed us career goals can come true with hard work.  I'm so thankful I had the opportunity to attend the PRSSA National Conference, and I really hope to attend the PRSA International Conference in Washington, D.C. next year!

So the other day I was sitting in class, and it really hit me that I graduate college in seven months.  Not only that, but I'm graduating from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.  You see, I was against going to UT my whole life until I started considering it my junior year of high school.  I had a tough time deciding between UT and another school.  I was scared to make the wrong decision, but I am incredibly thankful I ended up at UT and can't imagine my life had I gone anywhere else.

I wanted to go to Belmont University in Nashville my whole life.  My grandma, mom and big brother all went there, and it's close to home.  I've always loved home and thought going to school 30 minutes away was all I could handle.  My dislike of UT all started when I was in first grade.  My teacher was obsessed with the Vols, and the room was decked out in orange, white and everything UT.  It was just too obnoxious for me.  My family isn't into sports, so I didn't grow up a UT fan.  As I grew up, I began to think of UT as a party school and decided that just wasn't for me.  I ended up going on a tour with a friend, and my mind was completely opened.  I loved the big school atmosphere and how the campus almost felt like its own city.  I also went on a tour of Belmont that year and just couldn't feel the same.  It's a beautiful school that I have nothing against, but I just didn't feel like I belonged.  Suddenly, I became turned off by the idea of a small school.  I came from a high school where everybody knew everybody and their business, and I was ready to get away from that.  I was really confused, though.  I would spend agonizing nights making pros and cons lists.  Was I really going to abandon the school I had always wanted to go to my whole life?  It was a lot more expensive than UT, and I would have many of the same opportunities at both schools.  I think I wanted to go to Belmont to stay close to home and because it was really all I knew.  I judged UT from the outside, but once my mind was opened by actually being on the campus, I felt an indescribable feeling that told me that was where I belonged.

Now as a senior looking back, I know this is where I was meant to be.  I've had a lot of good times and some bad times.  Growing up is fun and hard at the same time.  I'm so different, and my life is so different than it was four years ago that it's pretty crazy to think about.  If I could go back in time to my high school self and explain how things are right now, my high school self would have never believed me.  However, I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, and I know every twist and turn has led me to where I am now and will carry me into my future.

First, I've talked about this a lot in past posts, but I've had the honor of being a member and leader of the Kappa chapter of Phi Mu Fraternity.  I was so on the fence about rushing and joining a sorority my freshman year and didn't end up joining until sophomore year.  Not only have I had great experiences and opportunities presented to me through Phi Mu, but I've met some of my best friends.  I'm still close with my friends from home and never thought I'd find very good friends here.  I have Phi Mu to think for most of my support system here, including my roommates, Rachel and Lauren, and our best friend neighbors, Kaeli, Caitlin and Lauren.  I can't imagine spending date parties, football games and game nights without these girls.

Next, I know I chose the right major at the right school.  I came into school as a PR major and haven't wavered.  Everything I've taken advantage of through UT's PR program has further affirmed that I made the right decision when choosing my career path.  Besides learning about the field, I met another one of my close friends, Jordan, through my major.  Our lives - from personal things to our career ambitions - are so similar, and sometimes I feel like she's the only person who understands those things about me, because she's going through them as well.  I had the pleasure of having Dr. Abbey Levenshus as my PR writing teacher last semester, and she has become a role model and mentor for me who has taught me so much about what I need to know once I venture into the real world.  I've learned so much through UT's chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America, and I've already gained a lot from being president this school year.

All the things that have made up my college experience at UT have pushed me to step outside of my comfort zone in order to dream bigger and work harder than I ever thought possible.  I know that being here has given me the courage to do things I never thought I'd do and that my life is richer than I could have imagined.  I'm so thankful I listened to my heart when it came to deciding my college, and I'll continue to do the same as I take my steps into the world and have to decide where I'll live and work once I graduate.

I can't believe I'm writing this post about my senior year of college.  I can't believe I'm already a month into this year, and I graduate in eight months.  I tend to be a planner and person who frequently looks toward the future.  How could I not be at this stage of my life?  I have to figure out some sort of plan for after I graduate, even if it's pretty vague.  However, I also want to do my best to soak up every moment I have left while in school, because I know I'll miss it once I'm gone.  It's been a pretty busy start, so I'll try to catch everybody up on what I've been up to so far.

I came back to school and was immediately swept into the whirlwind known as sorority recruitment.  I actually really enjoy recruitment, even though it is exhausting in every sense of the word.  It's so important to make sure you gain a pledge class full of girls you can be proud of and trust to carry on the legacy you're leaving.  We used the week before recruitment to hold our annual recruitment retreat in our house.  It's always nice to catch up with everybody you haven't seen over the summer and spend time remembering why Phi Mu is so special to us.

Picture of all of us taken during retreat

  This year, I felt extra involved in recruitment, and it was so rewarding.  Each round except for preference lasts two days.  The second round was philanthropy round, so of course I had to be very involved in that.  Crazy story though - (Sorry for any gory details) The afternoon before philanthropy round, I unexpectedly had to have a minor surgical procedure performed during which I had an abscess removed.  It was a painful procedure, and the doctor inserted a wick into the spot afterward, so it would keep draining.  Having the wick was very painful and made it hard to move around at all.  I couldn't move without the wick poking and prodding me, and walking was especially painful.  Because I hurt pretty much every time I moved, my sisters all came together to set up the house for philanthropy round.  I was so moved to see the way the girls all scurried about asking me what I wanted done and doing it for me.  It was just the cherry on top of a week full of Phi Mu love realizing that's how we are.  We all come together even if just one sister is affected.  Philanthropy round went very well, and the room looked great.  My roommate, Lauren, made adorable hot air balloon centerpieces, and we had a giant hot air balloon made out of red and yellow balloons, since those are Children's Miracle Network's colors.

 Seniors on philanthropy round

With the best philanthropy assistant I could ask for, Allie.

The next round was skit round, and I had a very small part as the announcer.  Our skit's theme was E!'s Live from the Pink Carpet Special, and if you know me at all, you know I'm all about some E!, so I loved it.  And yes, we had a pink carpet running through the house, which I adored.  It was fun to just be involved and get to know some of the girls in the skit better.  Skit round is always the most fun and gives the girls going through recruitment an opportunity to see our silly side.

 Skit girls
Seniors being weird per usual

The last round is preference round, and it's a serious round during which we share with girls what Phi Mu means to us and what it's done for us.  Three girls give their testimonies each round to the entire room, and I was asked to give mine.  Our testimony speakers are a secret, so nobody knows who is giving a testimony until you stand up.  I was asked over the summer, and it was so hard to keep it from everybody, but it definitely made the moment more special.  It took me a while to craft what I wanted to say, because there are honestly no words that can do justice to how I feel, but I did my best.  It's also a hard thing to completely open up to a room full of girls you don't know and may never see again, but it's important for them to know what's on our hearts.  I went into greater detail, but here is the gist of what I shared.  I focused on the fact that I didn't join Phi Mu until my sophomore year.  I explained how alone and lost I felt my freshman year and the fact that Phi Mu completely changed that.  I found a place where I felt accepted and cared about.  The girls inspired me, encouraged me and loved me for who I was.  I felt like they put me back on track with my life and gave me back not only who I used to be, but who I was supposed to become.  Because of them, I've gained confidence I never had and taken opportunities I wouldn't have without their support.  I explained what has been the most difficult issue I've had to walk through in college.  It's an issue that involved a lot of ups and downs, and a lot of people didn't want to deal with that roller coaster.  However, my sisters did ride that with me.  They also knew that a lot of times I didn't need advice or opinions; I just needed people to walk with me and be there, and that's what they did.  I explained why I feel a special connection to Children's Miracle Network Hospitals and how personally touched I feel any time I'm doing something for CMNH or East Tennessee Children's Hospital as philanthropy chair.  As you mature through college, you will have a lot of good and bad experiences that just come with the territory.  My sisters have been through that with me - dealing with the hard times but also encouraging me as I deal with grownup issues, like figuring out what I want to do in life and going through applications and interviews.  I concluded by revealing that my sisters are a huge reason I'm as ambitious and motivated as I am.  Because of them, I know I'm going somewhere.

Seniors after pref round

Bid Day is the day everybody waits for.  It's when all the girls going through recruitment get their bids and join their new sisters to celebrate.  All the sororities gather at our basketball arena, Thompson Boling, and the new members receive their bids and run to their new chapters.  We had trolleys waiting for the girls to take them to our house.

Obsessed with this quatrefoil.


 Adorable chalkboard quatrefoil with the names of the Phis (new members)

Last bid day picture for seniors

 It's a tradition for seniors to jump in the fountains at Worlds Fair Park, but it was packed that day, so we jumped into the pool of my apartment complex!

Aside from being busy with Phi Mu, I'm also the president of my school's chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) this year, and I'm loving it.  The other officers are great, and being so involved makes me even more excited to start my career.  I'll be traveling to Philadelphia in October for the PRSSA National Conference, where I'll meet professionals and PRSSA students from all over the country.  I can't wait for what I know will be a great learning experience.

Most of the officers after our first meeting

With Jordan, the vice president.  I also call this girl my best friend in my major.  We've stuck together and helped each other out for a while now.  She's a true inspiration both professionally and personally, and I can't wait to see all the things she accomplishes.  I really don't know what I'd do without her to help me through school and internships, as well as personal matters.  It's crazy how alike we are.

I've also enjoyed our first two football games...

Oh, and I was on UTSports.com and the Jumbotron multiple times this game.  Thank you, third row seats.

And the most recent thing?  Our annual first date party, Mad Plaid, which was a blast.
With my little, Anna.  Isn't she adorable?!

Love Caitlin!

I can't wait to see what the rest of the year holds!