Rays of Light: Emma Samatas

Hometown: Elmwood Park, IL

Current Location: Elmwood Park, IL

Current Role: Human Resources Coordinator

Nominated By: Ben Bruster

Reason for Nomination: It is my honor to nominate Emma Samatas as a “Ray of Light.” Emma is one of the kindest, most compassionate, and most authentic people I know. She exudes love and extends empathy to others freely. Emma uses her voice to speak up for herself and for those who might not be comfortable or able to speak up for themselves. In this way, she empowers herself and others to leave positive impacts on the world.

Not one to beat around the bush, Emma asks deep questions to reach the heart of the matter. She is someone I—and surely many others—feel comfortable being raw and vulnerable with. Emma wants to see you for all that you are, not merely for what you may think others want to see. Put another way, Emma will be the first to acknowledge her humanness and your humanness, and then sit by your side and offer support through thick, thin, and otherwise.  

Emma is a rock star—a bolt of passion and compassion! I am so grateful to call her my friend. I cannot wait to see what this year and all those to come have in store for her:)

A Short Bio.

Emma Samatas was born and raised in Elmwood Park, IL, an inner-ring suburb due west of Chicago. Hailing from a large Italian-American clan, Emma learned the importance family early on. Growing up, she writes, “Over 50 relatives…essentially live[d] within an 8-block radius” of each other. On one of her town’s main streets even, her family owned “five family businesses.” In this way, Elmwood Park became so much of a haven for the Samatas family that they have colloquially come to know their town as “‘The Island,’ because [their family] has everything [they] need there.”

Members of Emma’s family. PC: ES

In Emma’s words:

When I think about my childhood, I often think of Sunday Dinners at my Nana and Papa Tony’s house. We would all gather with all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins and eat a lot of appetizers and endless amounts of pasta.

Gnocchi, aka “Potato Pasta,” is a very common and tasty Italian dish.
PC: Your Guardian Chief

Over each Sunday dinner, relationships were forged; bellies were filled; laughs were shared; and memories were created. For Emma, in other words, Sunday dinners served as the all-important nexus of everything family, allowing her to both grow stronger and, at the same time, let her guard down—to find joy and to feel at home.

Emma was raised by her “amazing parents, Maria and Bill,” (the latter of whom she calls “Papa) alongside her brothers, Paul and John. Growing up, Emma’s father “worked extremely hard and long days,” while her mother stayed home to care for Emma and her brothers, at least while they were young. However, despite Emma’s parents’ earnestness and relentless work ethic, they religiously attended their children’s games, competitions, and musical performances. After all, supporting one another meant everything to them.

After graduating from Trinity High School, an all-girls’ Catholic high school, Emma followed her brother Paul’s footsteps and attended Augustana College in Rock Island, IL. Originally, Emma imagined that she would study education. Heck, she’d always loved helping others and working with others. Nevertheless, during her sophomore year, Emma realized that sociology and psychology were a better fit for her, and she switched majors.

Augustana College in Rock Island, IL.
PC: augustana.edu

Since changing majors four years ago, Emma has not looked back! Eventually, she discovered her hunger to help companies shape positive work cultures. So naturally, she aligned her studies towards Human Resources careers. Outside of the classroom, Emma worked in Augustana’s Reading & Writing Center as a writing tutor, participated in Greek life, studied abroad in Italy, and coordinated Sustained Dialogue discussion groups on campus.

After graduating, Emma accepted a Human Resources Coordinator position in Chicago. Months later, Emma’s then boyfriend (Justin) proposed, and now they happily await their September wedding. Although their initial wedding plans have been modified due to the current pandemic, Emma feels excited for their September 2021 reception. “Now I have more time to plan a fun party,” she reflected excitedly. To be sure, Emma and Justin will still get married this September, yet their wedding will be limited to close family. Still, to Emma, it’s all the same. Although her life is not currently unfolding as planned, she could not be happier to be marrying the love of her life and to be working for a wonderful company, with kind coworkers.  

Emma loves having deep conversations, eating tasty food, and dancing around the house. Whenever Emma needs a little boost, she turns on “Finesse” by Bruno Mars and Cardi B and begins to move. Like family, dancing brings Emma inner peace.  

Emma poses with her now fiancé, Justin, in front of the Eiffel Tower in 2017. PC: ES

Q & A: The [Not So] Serious

BB: If you could be a backup singer and dancer for any musical artist or band, historical or present, who would you choose? Why?

ES: Bruno Mars—he has such fun songs to dance to, and he is a great performer!

***

BB: If you could time travel, what advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

ES: I would tell myself that it is up to you to create your own happiness. When things get difficult, and believe me, they will, give yourself some grace and allow yourself to feel and process those emotions, but then get back up and keep on going. One of my favorite quotes is “change your thoughts and you’ll change your world.” There is so much power to this statement. I would also tell myself that you are so much stronger than you give yourself credit for, and that it is incredibly important to be authentic and stay true to yourself.

***

BB: Imagine you and your fiancé, Justin, have been chosen to host this year’s Halloween costume party. In addition to hosting, you must also pick a theme. What theme will two you choose? What will you of dress as? And why?

ES: All of 2019 I kept saying that I wanted to host a Roaring 20s party in 2020, and while who knows when we can safely host a party like that this year, luckily, we have a whole decade to throw one! So most definitely a Roaring 20s party, and I would dress up in one of those flapper dresses and wear pearls!

Perhaps this’ll do, Emma?!
PC: kristinvining.com via Pinterest

BB: Family seems to be an integral aspect of your life. What has becoming older and getting you engaged taught you about the nature of family?

ES: Family is such a huge part of my life, and as I have gotten older, I have truly learned the importance of family and, as my mom always reminds my brothers and me, “being a family takes work.” As I think about what it means to be a married woman in just a few months, I think about the new family I will soon have: mine and Justin’s. One day we hope to add children to our family, but for now we are content with it being just the two of us for a while. I also reflect on how big of a blessing it is that my family loves and welcomes Justin as their own, and that Justin’s family does the same for me. I know that our new little family will take work and that prioritizing both my side of the family and Justin’s side of the family will as well, but I want to put in the work because family is so important to the both of us.

***

BB: Tell about a recent moment when you felt proud to be you. Why do you think you felt this way? And what does this moment say about you?

ES: I felt extremely proud last year when I gave the commencement speech for the class of 2019. It was such an honor to be chosen, and it was a truly memorable way to end my college experience at Augustana. That moment meant so much to me because of how far I had come since the first time I stood in a room filled with all of my classmates: the first day of our orientation. On that day, I was very nervous and unsure whether I was even going to stay at Augie for the full-four years, and to my surprise, Augie soon became my home away from home. Going to Augustana, and most importantly, deciding to stay there, was the best decision of my life! That moment standing on stage signified that I grew so much as a person, that all of my hard work was worth it, and that I must always believe in myself and my potential.

***

BB: When looking to laugh, what (activities, settings, etc.) or who do you turn to?

ES: My brother Paul—we are always SO goofy when we are together.

Emma and her brothers: John (left) and Paul (right). PC: ES

BB: Other than your alarm clock, what gets you out of bed in the morning?

ES: My dog—she barks very loudly! LOL All joking aside, right now, spending quality time with my family, especially my mom, is getting me out of bed. This quarantine has forced me to slow down from my very busy life and enjoy my last few months living with my family before I officially move out in September.

***

BB: Imagine there is a Boeing 747 outside, waiting to take you anywhere in the world right now. Money is not a constraint. Where are you going and why? 

ES: Siena, Italy! I studied abroad there, and this season of my life was truly when I felt most happy, confident, and at peace. Siena will always have a special place in my heart! Plus, I really miss the gelateria that was by my apartment!

Siena has a beautiful skyline. PC: Univ. of Oregon

BB: Who is your favorite author? And what is your favorite book?

ES: I currently love Brené Brown, but I am not sure if I have a favorite book actually! However, I do love inspirational/self-help books, so if anyone reading this has any great recommendations, please send them my way!

***

BB: Whether through your vocation, your relationships, or your passion projects, how would you like to change the world in the foreseeable future?

ES: At the beginning of this year, I started a national Wellness Initiative at my company. Each month we have a different wellness theme—this month’s theme is Mental Health Matters. I send out monthly newsletters to all of our US employees, weekly Wellness Wednesday emails with resources and content related to the theme, and then our Wellness Committee plans activities for the month. It has meant a lot to me to see how this initiative has inspired so many of our employees to focus on their health and wellness.  

***

BB: Emma, you live in Chicago. Imagine that you have traveled back to high school just to have your own “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” Where are you going? Who are going to spend the day with? And why?

ES: Well, I did not know them in high school (wish I did), but I would take my friends Maya, Kimi, and Kaylee to explore the city, eat some delicious food, have a bunch of mini photoshoots, and enjoy some drinks. These are the girls that made my study abroad experience so much fun, and I know we would have great time together again.

“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (1986)
PC: Amazon

BB: With modern technology and social media, it seems really easy to perceive others’ lives differently than they occur. Given this phenomenon, what do wish the world knew about you that they might not already know?

ES: This is such an important question, because while my social media accounts will reveal some of my important milestones, it does not show who I am as a person or what I have gone through in my life. You would never know how anxious and sad I was the second half of my senior year of college by looking at my Instagram. You would also think that Justin and I have a perfect relationship based on my social media posts, and you would never know what challenges we had to face as a couple to get to where we are today (and believe me, we are far from perfect!). Most social media posts only showcase the good, I know mine do, but it is a false reality. I don’t think most people create this false reality intentionally either—I know that I, personally, just like sharing things that make me happy and don’t use social media as a platform to open up about my struggles, but by not doing so, I also contribute to creating these false perceptions of my life as a result. Life is messy, we are far from perfect, we experience hardships, sadness, and anxiety, and we go through times where we feel alone and disconnected. It is important to remember this when looking at other people’s social media accounts and make sure not to compare yourself to them. It is not healthy to compare yourself to others, so my advice is to live your life the way you want and do what brings you the most joy.

Life is not entirely, or always, what it appears, especially on social media.
PC: Pinterest

Author’s Note: I am so grateful that Emma took time out her busy life to let me get to know her more. Hopefully, you enjoy learning about her, too. She’s great! Participant responses are found as they were written.

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