For Neresa Joseph and Alexandra Palma, writing is more than a hobby used to pass monotonous moments – it is a tool they employ to express themselves from the depths of their being and relay feelings that otherwise may never reach the surface.
Joseph and Palma, both undergraduate students at Plaza College in Jackson Heights, recently represented their school’s chapter of Sigma Kappa Delta (SKD) – an English honor society for those pursuing their associate’s degree – in the National Chapter of the Year competition in New Orleans, Louisiana.
The two students returned to Queens with the top prize, being recognized as the best SKD chapter in the country over the past year from a pool of 120 colleges.
“I had tears in my eyes when we won the award,” said Palma, 24, from Jackson Heights. “I know how hard people worked on this, and it felt great to be recognized for that.”
At the event in New Orleans, Joseph, the secretary of SKD, also won a $750 national service scholarship – one of only five handed out for a pool of over 1,200 candidates.
“When I first entered, I did not think I would win,” said the 25-year-old from Jamaica. “I figured I would give it a shot, and whatever happens, happens. I just felt someone from Plaza should win. But hearing my name announced, I was shocked. It showed me that I belittle myself, and I can accomplish more than I thought I could.”
To win the Chapter of the Year award, the members of SKD had to select a single service project they coordinated last year – which best represented their chapter’s work in promoting the English language – and assemble a portfolio for submission to the contest.
The students chose an event they called Sisters Without Voices, a poetry slam held last March to promote non-violence against women.
“I have never been in an abusive relationship, but I know women who have been, and that show was amazing because it helped women and showed we care,” said Joseph. “It is a way for women to come out and voice their opinions and what they’ve been going through. It is a relief.”
The open-mic poetry reading was organized through a partnership with Safe Horizons, an assistance agency that provides support, prevents violence and promotes justice for victims of crime and abuse. The event raised over $3,000 for Safe Horizons, and provided a venue for dozens of women to express themselves. Sisters Without Voices was organized by SKD President Candace Nixon, Vice President Janet Hill and Secretary Tiffany Graham.
“We had poetry celebrating woman, written by woman, bringing light to woman’s issues,” said Professor Jonathan Howle, who is actively involved with SKD. “That project was the best representation of our work all year.”
As part of the chapter’s anti-violence movement, members also performed “The Vagina Monologues,” which proved to have special significance for Palma.
“We performed this play talking about things that people usually don’t talk about, but that they should talk about,” she said. “It helps people being more familiar with their sexuality and women appreciating themselves more than anything else. This event really hit home for me, because I was in an abusive relationship, so when this opportunity came along to tell people about it, I jumped aboard to try and make a difference. So many people go through things and don’t say it, so by having said it, we help each other.”
Palma has received her associate’s degree in business administration and is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in the same field. She is now the president of Plaza’s chapter of Sigma Tau Delta, an international English honor society for bachelor’s and graduate students.
Her chapter has already organized a book drive, which collected 540 college-level books, and is planning a spelling bee and summer theatre program. After graduating, she hopes to get a culinary degree and open a restaurant.
Joseph recently helped coordinate an SKD multicultural poetry slam, which raised over $700. Once she has completed her studies, she plans to pursue a career in child psychology or continue writing, by becoming a journalist.
Regardless of what career paths Palma and Joseph follow, writing is sure to be a prominent part of both their lives.
“I’ve always liked to write since I was young,” Joseph said. “It is a way for me to voice my feelings.”
Palma enjoys the freedom and purity of the art.
“When you are writing, no one is judging you or speaking down to you,” Palma said. “It is just you and the paper.”