by Sophia Buraglio, BΨ
On October 24th of 2021, members of the Psi chapter’s Beta Psi class gathered in Schoenberg Music Building to complete the Ritual of the Third Degree, thus finally bringing to a close their year-and-a-half-long candidate process–which began on January 18, 2020. The class completed the First and Second Degrees in early 2020 (prior to UCLA’s transition to online school), and gained Active status later that spring after a replacement ceremony over Zoom, but had yet to experience Third Degree in person. The day was marked by mixed emotions; while Beta Psi expressed excitement and nostalgia about reuniting as a class and being met by Erica Vellanoweth, their Vice President of two years prior, an undeniable air of melancholy hung over the ceremony as well. Many were without their Bigs or family members who had graduated, and fewer than a dozen total Actives and Alumni attended the ceremony. Beta Psi itself was somewhat diminished, missing several members who had assumed Conditional or Inactive status, or else had scheduling conflicts. After the Ritual completed, the few “candidates” who had family present received gifts, took pictures, and left to celebrate elsewhere, but many milled around, unsure of how to celebrate or with whom. A handful of those without their Bigs/families present eventually joined up and went out to eat as a group, and others left alone.
For current Sergeant-at-Arms Natalie Wang, of Beta Psi, this event posed a particularly strange challenge: she was perhaps the first Sergeant to plan her own Third Degree. Because she had no reference point for the in-person ceremony, Wang relied on older Brothers and previous officers for input. She described the experience as “really weird, because obviously I was still participating as a “candidate”... I probably spent most of Third Degree worrying about if everything was going well.”
Only a few weeks later, members of Beta Psi convened again for Degree–this time joining their older Brothers as Actives–to welcome the Beta Omega class during their round of make-up, in-person Degrees. While Beta Psi was able to experience First and Second Degrees before the pandemic, Beta Omega joined Chapter during the 2020-2021 school year, becoming the first ever class to complete their entire candidate process online. This included slideshow recreations of the Ritual, created by Nationals and presented over Zoom, which took the place of each Degree. While the Beta Omega class was officially classified as Actives by the end of the school year, they still had not gone through any Degree in person. So on November 7th, 2021, the Psi chapter hosted a marathon session, performing First, Second, and Third Degree back-to-back with interludes of forty-five minutes between each ceremony.
Wang believes that there are certain elements of Degree that simply can’t be replicated over Zoom, so she was excited to finally give Beta Omega the chance to experience Ritual as it was intended. Still, the three-in-one event required a tremendous amount of preparation and work. “I pray that no Sergeant will ever have to do that again,” she joked.
Vivian Yee and Jack Nelson of Beta Omega both expressed gratitude to Chapter and to Nationals for their dedication to preserving as many of the traditions of Degree as possible during the stretch of online instruction. “They did a great job of helping us candidates feel like we were part of the process throughout the whole thing,” Nelson said, noting the compassion and flexibility shown by the then-Vice President, and the use of resources such as breakout rooms to preserve the secrets of the Ritual and facilitate components such as family reveals. “They definitely did the most they could with the ceremonies online.”
Still, Nelson noted of the virtual Degrees, “There was only so much we could do to honor the traditions and everything we usually do... because so much of it is steeped in tradition.”
Yee agrees. When Beta Omega was able to attend in-person Degrees, my pride in Psi grew even further,” she said. She described the experience of witnessing, for the first time, her Brothers assembled under the Chapter flag. “Seeing and hearing the Psi traditions in-person truly was a whole different experience, in the best way possible.”