Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Greetings From Behind the Podium

Guest essay by a recent college graduate

The author of this post wrote the following after reading a previous post of mine: Greetings from the Back Row.  He wanted to add the perspective from the other side of the room, so to speak.  This post is an honest reflection of this author's recent fraternity experience - hence its more personal feel in comparison with mine (and his wish to remain anonymous).  The author graduated last May. He became a founding father his freshman year, vice-president for two years, and president for one. He tries his best to remain involved with his colony (soon to be chapter) and his organization as a whole as much as he possibly can. -- John


I’m the brother you are going to miss.  I’m the go-getter.  The one that rallies the troops before a big event and makes sure that all of the t’s and i’s are crossed and dotted before it starts. I’m there to drive you home and I’m there to pick you back up when you fall.  When your parents come to town I’m the brother you introduce them to so that they keep the checks for dues coming and don’t feel like you are wasting their time and money.  I’m the first one to get to chapter meetings and the last one to leave.

I’m Mr. Involved.  I’m Fraternity Man of the Year.  Better yet, I’m Brother of the Year.

But let me tell you how I came to be this way.  I honestly had no intention of joining a fraternity.  When I walked the university’s involvement fair my freshman year I was lost in a sea of people that I didn’t know.  Granted, I played sports and was involved a lot in high school, but I was more of a “behind the scenes” kind of person.  I never wanted to step into the limelight.  I’ve always been very loyal and committed to anything that I do but never did things for the glory.  I walked past the fraternity’s table and saw a bunch of guys that would rather be someplace else, anywhere but stuck there having to talk to freshmen. I saw where I could make a difference. Make an impact.

I started off holding any position that I could.  Attending every event that I could.  Volunteering for whatever I could get my hands on.  Everyone, even my pledge class brothers, soon called me “super pledge."  Brothers showed me off to the sororities like a prize won at the fair and always let me slide whenever I messed up.  I soon found a liking for being involved and started running for committee chairs, and winning. Everyone liked me - or so I thought - because I brought a lot of passion to everything I did.  Most seemed to like my ideas, except those that felt their “fun” was in jeopardy.  But I ignored the critics because my intentions were good.  I wanted to make us better.  To make us The Best.

I worked my way up and ran for my first executive board position - and won.  I was eager to participate.  I actually felt like I was starting to matter and that people had respect for me; that people liked me.  I started to enjoy the limelight.  Other entities on campus took notice of me and asked me to get involved with them also and I did.  I figured it would make the fraternity look better in the end.  But then a series of things began to happen.

My grades started to slip.  I started to notice that I wasn’t “superman” and couldn’t do it all on my own.  I soon realized that I had nowhere to turn to and no one to ask for help.  I had taken on too much and was over-involved.  Everyone expected me to do it all.  To plan everything.  To make sure people follow the rules.  To keep in touch with everyone.  To do each person’s position for them.  It’s what I had done in the beginning so why should things change now?

The brothers started to doubt my intentions - and doubt me for that matter.  They began to question what I had in mind for the organization and my dedication.  I started to grow bitter. It was me who had worked behind the scenes while everyone else was out partying to make sure that our organization didn’t sink to the bottom.  I skipped social events so that I could catch up on schoolwork missed because of covering everyone else’s bases.  But no one noticed the fact that I was doing the work of many, just that I wasn’t in attendance at social events. They didn’t know what it felt like to be all alone when I was getting phone calls from administrators.  No one was standing next to me when I had to meet with the Greek Life advisor in the aftermath of whatever trouble some brothers caused, so that I could try to explain their actions, make excuses for them, and promise to handle it.

It doesn’t help matters that after reviewing manuals from our headquarters I realized that we were doing everything wrong.  Meetings were being run the wrong way.  Reports were done incorrectly.  To make matters worse our image on campus was atrocious.  No one respected us.  Our recruitment numbers declined.  Our GPA fell.  But when I started to make some changes, whether small or big, brothers started to take a stand against me.  There were things that we should have been doing all along but since I was going against our “traditions” brothers started to talk about me behind my back, fight the entire process, or worse, drop their membership.  Think of a hot plate pulled out of the dishwasher and put into cold water. Too much, too fast.

All I really wanted was for us to start doing things right.  The way that our founders and executive council members wanted us to.  You know, simple stuff like be respected on campus, follow our values, and live our ritual.

It doesn’t help matters that I would get emails, phone calls, or text messages from brothers filled with hatred because they didn’t like having to go in front of the judicial board.  Or were mad because I didn’t beg them to stay active as they threatened to leave.  Others started to lash out and tried to tear down everything I attempted to instill in our organization.  I started to feel more alone.  I started to question what I was doing this for.  I started to wonder why I was still involved or even still a brother in the first place.

All because of what?  Starting to hold them accountable?  Starting to expect them to live our ritual?  What happened to the days of “super pledge?”

Once my position’s tenure was over I disappeared.  I retreated back to being the behind the scenes guy.  And I found myself in the back row at meetings, whenever I did attend.  Even sitting behind the guys that disrupted them on purpose.  Younger and newer brothers wondered who I was at times.  My legacy was gone.  I found excuses and reasons to avoid going to any meetings or events.  I blamed it on being a senior and being busy.  I have been counting down the time until today, when I get to walk across this stage.  Some brothers have started to notice what I accomplished for the fraternity.  Others’ respect for me has started to recover after realizing all that I did.

Today, I’m not sitting with any of the brothers that are also graduating.  I’m sitting with the people I made friends with outside of the fraternity.  They don’t dislike me because I asked too much of them.  They can’t resent me for following or believing in a shared ritual.  They were there for me when my brothers couldn’t be.  Refused to be.  When I stood on homecoming court representing the fraternity at the big game, they were the ones that cheered me on when not a single brother was in sight.

The funny thing is, I joined a fraternity because I wanted to make friends.  You know, the kind where one day their kids call me “uncle” even though we don’t share a single gene.  The jury is still out on that one.

As a disclaimer, I’m not looking for you to feel sorry for me.  I brought it on myself.  I could have backed down and let them push me around.  Even resigned from the position.  But I don’t think that’s what our founders would have wanted, so I stuck with it.  If I didn’t believe in living the ritual then who was going to?  In fact, through all of the opposition that I faced, it made my love for the organization itself grow stronger.  Why else would I be wearing my organization’s graduation stoles today?

I just wanted you to see how things feel for someone like me, the one behind the podium.  I sacrificed a social life, time that I’ll never get back, and even my G.P.A.  I’m sure my family would love to hear Latin terms pronounced after my name today as I graduate, but hopefully they understand.  I’m just hoping and asking that you take it easy on the next “go-getter” coming up behind me.  To know what it felt like for me so he doesn’t have to go through what I did.

Maybe you can keep him from getting burned out.  Maybe from time to time you could pretend that you want to be at a community service event as much as the next mixer.  Maybe you’ll spend as much time planning our philanthropies as you do your parties.  Maybe you’ll realize that those letters you’re wearing on your chest are mine too.  To an outsider, you don't only represent yourself.  You represent me.  Our school.  Our organization.  Our founders.  Our Ritual.

I’m sure he would appreciate that.

I don’t want you to think that as I sit here waiting for them to call my name that I’m bitter or resentful.  I fact, I happen to not regret a single thing I did for our organization.  It’s an experience that I would recommend and encourage to anyone.  It made me a better person.  I hope to one day receive a phone call from my son or daughter saying that they are thinking about becoming Greek.  I just hope that maybe one day you’ll realize that my actions were for good.  That I had your and our organization’s best interests at heart. That I’m still here for you because that’s what brothers do.  It’s a realization and hope that I’m willing to wait around for.
 

7 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing this...I was this sister in college. Even today, I wonder if I could've still had a quality undergraduate fraternal experience without pushing the limits, without pushing my chapter to be better, to do better, and to expect better of themselves because, like the author, my sisters resented and ostracized me because of it. In the end, I still believe I did was right, and that my founders would be proud of me. As a result, I've created strong bonds with many of my interfraternal sisters and brothers, members of other organizations who took me in and extended friendship and love and kindness to me when my own sisters didn't.

    ReplyDelete
  2. While I appreciate the honest post about a challenging leadership experience, I'm ready for the post from the perspective of the student leader who makes the challenging choices to hold members accountable and is able to get buy in and accomplish the big goals and make the change. Those stories are out there too.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is seriously the best blog I've seen. Every post is spot on. Keep up the good work and encouraging words. I never imagined that presidency would be so intense, stressful, and incredible all at the same time. It's good to know that I'm not alone.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I know who your counterpart is on my campus, and as an advisor let me thank you (and him) for what you did for your chapter, and what you'll continue to do for your fraternity.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I’m the sister you never thought you’d ever have and the one you wish your parents gave to oh so many years ago.

    I’m to sister you introduce to all your friends and family to show them that “sorority girls” are not what they see in the movies.

    I’m a little too involved. I’m chapter Woman of the Year.

    But let me tell you how I got to this point. I honestly had no intention of joining a sorority. If you knew me in high school you would have thought I jumped off the deep end. But the minute I stepped foot on the university’s campus my freshman year I was lost in a sea of people that I didn’t know. Granted, I never really played sports and was a bit of an introvert in high school, but I was always more of a “behind the scenes” kind of person. I never wanted to step into the limelight. I’ve always been very loyal and committed to anything that I do but never did things for the glory. I walked past the sea of sorority’s table and saw a bunch of women that would rather be someplace else, anywhere but outside in the So Cal heat. In talking to these women I saw a future, a way to live my life better.

    I went through formal recruitment, not a simple undertaking if I say so. I spent an agonizing 4 days meeting countless women in different chapters smiling at me way more than normal. Can I tell you formal recruitment is not for the faint of heart! The minute I stepped into my future chapter’s recruitment event I knew there was something different about these women. They didn’t care about where I grew up, what I did in high school, or even what my parents did for a living; these women wanted to know who I was and why I want to join a sorority. It was amazing to talk to these future sisters about why I moved away from home and why I wanted to be a part of their close knit sisterhood.

    The minute I received my bid I knew there was something greater in store for me than I ever thought. I took any position that was open in the chapter, which happened to be Monday Night Dinner; trust me you do not want to be responsible for making dinner for 100 women who live in Southern California. From there I became the Judicial Director of Panhellenic; yes I was a 2nd semester freshman at this point. I knew after 6 months in this position there was a future in Greek life.

    I followed my passion within the Greek community, took on the positions people never wanted to touch and eventually became the Panhellenic President at my undergraduate university for a year and a half. During this time I learned so much about not only myself but also the women I called my sisters. I was in an abusive relationship, won three very high profiled Greek awards, was rejected from four different graduate programs, put myself into a very dangerous situation which involved a lot of alcohol and not so stand up gentleman; but at the end of this year I found exactly what I was looking for…sisters who loved me no matter what people thought about me. These women were there for me when almost everyone else in my life turned their back at me. At the end of my time as an undergraduate I wondered how did I get here? It was that first day of recruitment and the women I met that helped me understand the true meaning of sisterhood.

    Not only have I seen the true meaning of sisterhood within my sorority, my little sister has become my sister. I cannot express the amount of joy an excitement the minute I saw her bid card. The sorority experience crosses so many different boundaries in life. I am so fortunate to see my sorority sisters as well as my real sister share this amazing experience fraternal experience I hold so close to my heart

    ReplyDelete
  6. I went through a similar experience with my chapter as well. Even though my chapter is gone, I still have friends that respect me.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I can't say I sympathize for this individual. He very clearly sacrificed himself in the process of trying to make his chapter great and when that happens actions become empty and meaningless - clearly his brothers saw this and he felt it personally. This to me is a warning, we can not ever abandon ourselves in our pursuit of excellence for our organizations. As much as I may wish that some of my sisters could make better choices, I will never be able to make the choices for them. I think that's where this gentleman went wrong. We as Greek leaders often times get caught up thinking that its all worth it for the chapter, the founders, the Greek community - but if its not worth it for us, how genuine are our actions? What are they really worth? We can only empower others to do better for themselves. All things considered, it wouldn't mean much to me if a sister showed up just because she felt obligated to - the passion has to be personal and organic, you can't ever make that for somebody.

    I am a go-getter in my chapter as well, I pledged in the fall, joined the executive board and have since founded a fraternal values society on campus and been elected Student Body President. I did those things for me, but I still share my experiences with my sisters. I am not the most popular woman in my chapter - but why does any one of us need to be? My sisters know that I hold myself to a higher standard and am not impressed when they fail to do so, but that I still believe they can. I challenge the idea that making personal sacrifices to benefit the chapter truly does so; in my mind it creates the perception of a false sense of indebtedness that members do not feel and will never satisfy us as leaders. I build my chapter because I want to, and I would not congratulate any sister who did so for any other reason.

    ReplyDelete