Sigma Delta Tau Alumnae of the Year

Today, our co-founder, Phyllis Sudman, was honored by Sigma Delta Tau as the Alumnae of the Year for her work with Simon’s Fund. She was introduced by Lori Fair, and accepted the award in front of 300 plus sorority sisters. We are so proud of her and are pleased to share her acceptance speech.

Lori. Thank you so much.  I am so glad that your family has come into my life.  

Thanks to all of you.  I am still very surprised to be standing up here receiving a national award from my sorority.  It’s unbelievable and I am very honored.

It’s also hard to believe that I pledged this great sorority almost 25 years ago.  My hair was much bigger then, but I pretty sure that style is coming back soon!

As sisters of SDT, our minds are engrained with mottos, mission statements and of course, pledge songs.  I still can’t hear the song ‘We Are Family’ without singing (hopefully just in my head) We Are SDT.

So most of you will not be surprised by these four values: (1) Promote Academic Achievement; (2) Build Leadership Skill; (3) Instill Sense of Philanthropy; and (4) Create Lifelong Friendships.

I must admit that my perspective as a forty something is very different than it was as a bright-eyed college student.  Back then, the fourth bullet about friendships was definitely the most important.

But all of these values found their way into my SDT college experience, and that experience definitely helped me face life’s challenges.

Let me set the stage for you.  I had a great pledge class.  I am still friends with many of the girls in my class.  In fact, next month, we’re going away for the weekend with two pledge sisters and their husbands.

I became President my Junior year.  I graduated from the School of Journalism.  I got a job right away at a Knight-Ridder company, a few miles down the road from this hotel. Then, I started working at this new company called America Online. 

I eventually moved back to Philadelphia, where I was born and raised, to be closer to my extended family. Oh, and did I mention that my boyfriend from Sophomore year is sitting here today with our two kids?

Life was good and it was kind of going according to . . . or better than planned.

On January 24, 2005, that all changed.  Simon, my three-month old son, died in his sleep.  It’s impossible for me to convey to you what it was like to live through that experience. 

I don’t know about you, but I grew up in a somewhat insulated and predictable world. The sun rises and sets every day.  Green means go and red means stop.  Parents have kids, send them to college and grow old wallowing in the success of their children.

When that system breaks down, that it did for me that fateful night, everything became suspect, and it was hard to have faith that ANYTHING would work properly again.

I can’t tell you how or why I was able to pick up the pieces and move on.  There isn’t one thing that I did in those early years that got our lives back on track, and positioned Simon’s Fund to have an impact on the lives of children.

However, I am confident that it had something to do with the values I learned and the character I developed as an SDT.

Let’s take the values one at a time.

ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT.  I certainly didn’t take a class on parenthood or grieving.  I didn’t get a degree in psychology.  I’m pretty sure that the “A” I got in Black Dance (yes, that was a real class at Ohio State) didn’t help much either. 

However, performing at the collegiate level opened doors for me that catapulted my professional success, and the success of Simon’s Fund.  Our friends and former colleagues have helped us develop a strategy, get media attention, create powerful partnerships and gather some really cool auction items.

LEADERSHIP SKILLS. As President of our chapter, I learned how to be a leader. I faced lots of challenges and solved many problems.  I learned how to fail and get back up. This may surprise many of you, but I also learned how to manage drama.  I know that most sorority houses do not have that, but ours did . . . a little.

I learned how to do for others, and what it was like for people to depend on me.  Every day, as a mom, employee, spouse and co-founder of Simon’s Fund, I am leveraging these leadership skills.

PHILANTHROPY. After Simon died, Darren and I knew that we had to do something about it.  For us, it wasn’t enough to look inward.  We knew that eventually we’d be OK.  We wanted to make sure that others would be too.

Put simply, we didn’t want another family to follow our path.

We have a spot on our website called Simon’s Club. It shares the stories of seemingly healthy kids who attended our heart screenings and discovered heart conditions.  Melissa, Lori’s daughter, is our senior statesman and she is VERY protective of that role.  Kenny, who is sitting right there, Lori’s husband and Melissa’s dad, is on our board and the point person for Simon’s Club.  Thank you, Kenny.

To date, Simon’s Fund has provided almost 10,000 free heart screenings and helped about 70 students discover heart conditions. It helped pass a law in five states to protect student athletes from sudden cardiac arrest. You can check out our website to see if your state is one of them.  This fall, we will undertake our biggest challenge as we launch the first National Youth Cardiac Registry to promote research in this area. 

FRIENDSHIP. Despite everything we’ve discussed this morning, without friendships, I would be lost.  At each phase of my life, I created different kinds or levels of friendships, and each one was right for that time.  But there is something really special about the enduring friendships of SDT. 

My sisters have been a tremendous support network for me.  Two years ago, we hosted a heart screening in Highland Park and it turned into a little SDT reunion.  My big sister’s son decided to work with Simon’s Fund for his bar mitzvah project. He hosted a heart screening at his school.  Alison would have been here today, but like every other Jewish woman on the East coast, she is sending her kids to camp. By the way, our daughter leaves tomorrow. I also have a sister living in my neighborhood and another about ten minutes away. I can’t even begin to tell you how  much they have done to support me and Simon’s Fund.

SDT helped me learn how to be a friend, live with friends, and what to expect from friends.  I have carried these lessons with me throughout my life. 

I am very humbled to be standing here before you to receive this award.  I am amazed that they give out awards to people who just apply the values they learned as an SDT.

I also want you to know how grateful I am for the awareness that this award will raise for Simon’s Fund because I know that it will translate into lives saved. 

I know that each of you will leave here today knowing that sudden cardiac arrest is not just an adult thing and that it takes the lives of thousands of children every year. 

So thank you for this honor and for allowing me to carry the torch, again, for SDT.