Category Archives: values

Brothers Organize to Support Family in Wake of Tragedy

 

TJ Wedding-square

Brother Thomas “TJ” Virgin (Colorado) entered Chapter Eternal on November 10, 2015.

Brothers of the Gamma Kappa Chapter at University of Colorado Boulder are rallying behind the family of a brother who entered Chapter Eternal unexpectedly earlier this month. On November 10, 2015, Br. TJ Virgin (Colorado) entered Chapter Eternal following a tragic airplane accident near Akron, Ohio.

Brothers of the Gamma Kappa Chapter learned of the tragic accident by the early morning hours the next day. Ryan Lynch, a close friend and fellow Gamma Kappa Chapter alumnus, started notifying brothers of the tragic news. Ryan says the reactions ranged from shock to heartbreak after learning about the loss of a cherished member of their chapter, going all the way back to their days as candidates.

Dozens of brothers reached out to express condolences and offer support. By the evening of November 11, one day after the accident, close to 50 alumni brothers reached out to Ryan offering support for TJ’s widow, Andrea, and their 4-month-old daughter, Victoria. The chapter decided to set up a GoFundMe page where brothers and friends could provide financial support.

“Any time a brother had fallen on rough times, whether it was slipping grades, a difficult break-up, or family problems, TJ was always one of the first people there to offer support.”

The chapter set an initial fundraising goal of $5000 and distributed the link to the Gamma Kappa alumni directory. They intend to fund a memorial plaque at the chapter home in Boulder and start a college fund for TJ’s young daughter, Victoria.

The response was overwhelming as the alumni rallied to raise more than $5,000 in less than three hours. The fundraising goal was then doubled to $10,000, which was met only three days later. Ryan Lynch, TJ’s candidate class brother, says the chapter is confident they can achieve the new goal of $20,000 in the coming weeks.

“What I have learned from this experience is that brotherhood never dies,” Ryan says. “Brothers from my Sigma Nu class now live all over the world, and while we may have lost touch for periods of time, our brotherhood will live on forever.”

Ryan says TJ will be remembered as one of the most caring, intelligent, and friendly individuals he’s ever known. “Any time a brother had fallen on rough times, whether it was slipping grades, a difficult break-up, or family problems, TJ was always one of the first people there to offer support.”

While TJ won’t be around to watch his daughter grow up, Ryan knows Victoria Virgin has dozens of Sigma Nu “uncles” who will always love and protect her.  “TJ’s legacy will live on through his daughter, Victoria,” Ryan says.

TJ’s chapter brothers know he’ll be remembered as someone who lived his life in a manner that truly echoed the Creed of Sigma Nu. “He believed in the life of love, he walked in the way of honor and he served in the light of truth,” Ryan says. “Love, Honor and Truth — that was Thomas “TJ” Virgin.”

Brothers from other chapters around the country are welcome and encouraged to support Gamma Kappa Chapter’s fundraising effort during this time. Brothers wishing to lend the helping hand can do so by visiting the GoFundMe page at https://www.gofundme.com/5w9vaen8. Proceeds will benefit Victoria Virgin’s college fund.

TJ Andrea Victoria

Brother Virgin is survived by his wife, Andrea, and daughter, Victoria.

Dr. William S. Spears Pledges $1.5 Million for Leadership Training Facilities

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Nearly 300 brothers of Epsilon Epsilon Chapter (Oklahoma State) stepped forward to match Dr. Spears’ $1.5M gift to build new leadership training facilities on the Headquarters property in Lexington.

Lexington, Va. – Sigma Nu Educational Foundation (SNEF) received a pledge of $1.5 million this week from Dr. William S. Spears (Oklahoma State) to build new leadership training facilities on the Sigma Nu Headquarters property. The Spears Family Epsilon Epsilon Center of Excellence will house classrooms, a climate-controlled archives room, and lodging for up to 75 for visiting chapters from around the country.

Dr.  Spears became inspired to make this gift after reflecting on the experiences he gained in his own chapter. “I feel indebted to Sigma Nu for the leadership capabilities I developed during my time with the chapter,” he said. “I believe my time with Epsilon Epsilon Chapter shaped me in ways that are still bearing fruit to this day.”

“The fraternity experience is important for our nation’s future,” he added.

In June of 2014, Dr. Spears challenged his fellow brothers of Epsilon Epsilon Chapter to match his gift of $1.5 million by November of this year. His Oklahoma State chapter brothers answered the call and raised the matching funds by the deadline. Nearly 300 brothers of Epsilon Epsilon Chapter stepped forward to contribute.

“It is our expectation that this challenge – this collaborative effort to support Sigma Nu – will be the spark that prompts brothers from other chapters to join what has become a growing coalition of alumni dedicated to making Sigma Nu the most formidable men’s fraternal organization in North America,” he said.

For Brother Bill, Sigma Nu was the bridge to adulthood. “It took me from the adolescent years to early manhood,” he says, “and the leadership skills I learned and developed through my fraternity experience have served me for more decades than I want to count.”

Dr. Spears also cited the important role his father and uncle played in encouraging him to join the Epsilon Epsilon Chapter at Oklahoma State. “They were exceptional role models for me,” he said. “This gift honors their memories and the Spears family overall.”

William Spears Portrait

Dr. William S. Spears: “The fraternity experience is important for our nation’s future.”

 

The founding principles of Sigma Nu are of particular importance to Brother Bill, as they align closely with the values his family taught him. “As the first Honor fraternity, Sigma Nu has a set of values that I embraced,” he continued. “They were the same values I was taught in my early years. So the gift honors both the fraternity and my family.”

Past Regent and SNEF chairman Joe Gilman (Morehead State/Georgia) is among the many longtime alumni volunteers to understand the significance of this pledged gift. “I want to extend my deepest gratitude to Brother Spears for his transformational gift supporting the ideal of ethical leadership,” said Gilman. “We are proud to have one of the most visited headquarters of all national fraternities,” Gilman continued. “This gift will enhance the experience of tens of thousands of collegiate and alumni brothers who will visit the Headquarters Shrine for decades to come.”

“In recent years we have witnessed a positive trend of local chapters forging stronger partnerships with the General Fraternity,” Gilman observed. This relationship with Lexington has long been a priority for Brother Bill and the Epsilon Epsilon Chapter, as illustrated by the chapter’s annual bus trip to visit VMI and the Headquarters Shrine. “Knowing the ties our chapter has to Lexington,” Brother Bill said, “the annual trip serves to ensure that Epsilon Epsilon is always tightly connected to its Sigma Nu roots.”

Neil Gilpin, longtime advisor for the Epsilon Epsilon chapter, was also quick to recognize the impact this investment will have on the fraternity’s budding leaders. “This will be a place where brothers will learn and develop the skills to become ethical leaders and embrace the ideals of Sigma Nu while at the birthplace of our great fraternity,” he said. Gilpin also reiterated Dr. Spears’ goal for this matching gift to spur other chapters to host similar fundraising competitions that support programs and scholarships coordinated through the Sigma Nu Educational Foundation.

“This kind of engagement simply confirms what I believe about the lasting positive influence that a fraternity provides,” Dr. Spears added. “Our members are truly part of a brotherhood: these gifts are tangible evidence that brotherhood lasts.”

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Are you a fan or a fanatic?

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. -Aristotle

We all have strong convictions about something. It could be a political belief (“taxes hurt small businesses”), or a historical narrative (“FDR ended the Great Depression”) or even the eminence of a favorite sports team (“Chicago Cubs are the best baseball team ever”).

Maybe it’s something as simple as a favorite TV show (“Hands down, Entourage is the best show to ever grace the airwaves”). Whatever it may be, everyone is passionate about something.

In everyday usage, “fan” describes someone passionate about a sports team, a TV show, a musician, and so on. “I’m a lifelong Redskins fan,” one might say in casual conversation, or “I’m a huge fan of Tom Petty.

But the root word of fan carries a much different, and more harmful, meaning. Merriam-Webster defines fanatic as “marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion.” (Synonyms include “extremist” and “radical.”)

For a fan of the Detroit Lions a win brings him a sense of joy, but he can acknowledge, after observing the team’s record over the past ten years, that the franchise is not the best in the League.

For a fanatic, on the other hand, evidence doesn’t matter. The Detroit Lions are the best team in the League, period, and no amount of reason or logic will change his mind. It sounds silly in a sports analogy, but from time to time we’re all prone to such blindness in our decision making in other areas of our lives.

So what happens when we’re confronted with new evidence that conflicts with an existing worldview? How will you react? Will you take a big gulp, swallow your pride and change your mind? Or will you frantically search for stories that confirm your narrative and ignore anything that refutes it?

Thankfully for us Sigma Nus, the anecdote to fanaticism is right in front of us. Our founding principle of Truth expects us to make decisions based on sound information, even if it might not support our existing belief.

In short, Truth calls on us to keep an open mind–to consider the possibility that we made a mistake in our thinking. It requires us to walk away from a false paradigm no matter how psychologically painful it might be.

Which brings us to the #40 Answers in 40 Days Campaign. Beginning tomorrow, and continuing through National Hazing Prevention Week, hazers will be confronted with a steady assault of evidence and logic that questions a deeply rooted worldview—a worldview that regards the arbitrary mistreatment of new members as a legitimate way to build lifelong friendships and commitment to the fraternity.

For hazing’s True Believers we ask one thing: Consider the possibility that you might be wrong.

HuffPo: Want to Build a Better World? Go Greek

Collegians participate in teambuilding activities during 2009 College of Chapters in Lexington, Va.

Huffington Post College published a piece today explaining why fraternities and sororities are well ahead of other student organizations in discussing and solving common campus issues. Here are some of the highlights:

In truth, the college Greek system may be one of the healthiest forms of community in our nation, and any student who refuses to consider entering the community may be doing himself or herself a disservice.

In that light, the college Greeks have actually been heroic in their attempts to move beyond conformity in order to achieve diversity. Brian Johnson, an African-American professor at Bloomsburg University and Director of the Frederick Douglass Institute for Academic Excellence, is a sought-after speaker and consultant on multicultural issues among Greeks and other college audiences.

“As I travel the country speaking to student leaders about stereotypes,” he says, “I find a great number of students who, with their national organizations, are pressing for a return to the true mission of fraternal organizations — those being service and philanthropy, academic excellence and being good stewards to the campus community.”

The genuine challenges that fraternities and sororities face are hardly unique to their communities. What may be unique is their collective commitment to addressing their challenges head on.

Read the full story here.

(HT Drew Logsdon)

Lessons from IBM’s 100th Birthday

IBM celebrated its 100th birthday last month and the iconic company’s history offers several parallels for fraternities.

On values-based recruitment:

In those days, Big Blue was the place everyone wanted to work and invest. It recruited the best graduates from the best universities, imbued them with its core values of “excellence,” “customer service” and “respect for the individual,” and sent them out in blue suits and white shirts to sell the world on electronic computing.

On doing the right thing, even when it may not be popular (for example, taking a stand against hazing):

Here’s a company whose researchers won Nobel prizes, whose executives stood up to discrimination and prejudice before it was fashionable, and whose name could invariably be found on the list of major donors of the best universities and cultural institutions. And its computers outfoxed the world’s chess champion and took the crown in Jeopardy.

On upholding the company’s core values in the way they were meant to be:

It wasn’t, however, just the strategy that had gone awry. As Steve Hamm writes in a book commissioned for the 100th anniversary, “Making the World Work Better,” some of the core beliefs that had carried the company through other periods of transition had become impediments. Respect for employees, according to Hamm, “had morphed into a sense of entitlement, “excellence in all things had turned into a decision-inhibiting perfectionism, and “the best customer service” became an exercise in giving customers what they said they wanted rather than presenting them with the breakthrough innovation they never knew they needed.

On the willingness to break tradition:

By 1993, things were so desperate that IBM for the first time reached outside its ranks and hired Lou Gerstner, an executive with RJR Nabisco, as chief executive. Gerstner mounted a painful rescue that included closing facilities, selling off businesses and firing 35,000 employees. Gerstner’s strategy was to move IBM out of low-margin equipment manufacturing while moving more aggressively into software and corporate outsourcing of computer services. Under the current chief executive, Sam Palmisano, who took over in 2002, that strategy includes a strong focus on cloud computing, strategic consulting and data analytics.

Read the full story here.

Fraternal Musings on the Fourth of July

By Don Densborn (Indiana)

“And for the support of this Fraternity, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

It is the 4th of July, so in accord with the tradition to which we all subscribe as Americans, I am re-reading the Declaration of Independence.

Why are you laughing?  We all do it, right?

OK, admittedly reading the Declaration on the 4th is a bit odd.  I am a traditionalist at a time when a lot of tradition seems to be tweeted to the winds.

I attribute my odd practice to the fact, when I was in high school, I was required to memorize the preamble to the Declaration of Independence.  I became addicted to great words conveying great ideas.  Who would not recognize the timeless words, “When in the Course of human events..,” and “We hold these truths to be self-evident…”  Ol’ Tom Jefferson sure knew how to coin a phrase for the ages.  He knew his words would be etched into history.  He understood his audience would include future generations he would never know.  Thus he took great care.

I believe a lot of people think Jefferson’s preamble to the Declaration is the entire instrument—far from it.  There was a committee that helped Jefferson, and the work of that committee included a comprehensive list of grievances against the “King of Great Britain” intended that the Colonies be “Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown,” culminating with the following:

“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

Reading these closing words this time, I was given to substitute “Fraternity” for “Declaration” in the first phrase.  The preface to this writing was thusly “borrowed” shall we say—borrowed, but not without basis.

For much like our beloved country, our fraternity firmly relies on the “protection of divine Providence.”  The earthly Knights—or Swiss Guards—of our protectorate are our staff in Lexington and elsewhere, led by Brad Beacham and Brad Hastings.  They are young, honorable, talented men who have dedicated their lives and worldly pursuits to a set of common ideals over personal fortune.  They personify the Life of Love and should inspire our gratitude and respect.

“We mutually pledge”—we all mutually pledged loyalty to Sigma Nu and our Knightly vows.  To “pledge” means to make a “solemn promise.”  By their Declaration, our founding fathers made their solemn promise to one another and to a set of common beliefs.  They did so in anticipation of great toil and grief—possibly death.  As members of the Legion of Honor, we similarly vowed, whatever the sacrifice, to serve each other and society according to a set of ideals and a common purpose we deem most high.  According to our Creed, “in the fresh morning of our youth,” we subscribed to the “common brotherhood” of men, the “continuity of the Divine” and the “solidarity of mankind.”

What’s more:

“Our lives”—we pledged to believe in the Life of Love for until death.

“Our fortunes”—we pledged to lend a “Helping Hand” and do all we can to ensure the perpetuation of our fraternal ideals throughout the world, forever.

“Our sacred honor”—quite simply, ours is the Honor Fraternity.  It is our raison d’etre.

You get the picture.  As an analogy, it is nearly perfect.  Some 94 years after the Declaration of Independence, our founding ideals were set to align with it, and 142 years hence from that date, Sigma Nu soldiers on under the same indelible banner.  You can’t tweet that away.

With this in mind, I read the results of a poll which were published recently in the Wall Street Journal.  The question posed was:  “Are you happy?”  Nearly 60 percent of respondents said they were “Pretty Happy,” and another 30 percent said they were “Very Happy.”  In a time of political tumult and a dreadful economy, it is interesting to witness that our level of happiness is not dictated much by politics or the economy.  That’s quite telling.

Perhaps, despite all angst of the moment, we take long measure of our blessings when presented with such a question.  If one is blessed by a loving spouse, wonderful children, good health—and has not missed a meal lately—how can he not be happy in the overall scheme of things?  Or maybe happiness has to do with loyal friends, fulfilling work, financial security, the beauty of nature, the wonders of human achievement, the blessings of liberty, the rewards of an honorable life well-lived, and/or a loving and forgiving God?  Quite simply, we live in the greatest place in the world and the greatest time in history. We have a lot to be thankful for, and we know it.  On that basis alone, how could any witting man not experience happiness, at least in a relative sense?

Relative happiness, sure, but what’s more?  I would answer that “What’s more?” is the complete joy that comes from giving—giving behind the ideals in which you believe—giving in support of the institutions of goodness in the world—giving to perpetuate the type of relationships which helped mold you into a man and shape you for the better—in short, giving to ensure that the world you will leave behind one day will be better than the one you inherited.

My guess is that when a member of our Brotherhood reflects on the influences in his life that shaped his sacred honor, fostered his life success, and rendered him, at the end of the day, happy, he will find Sigma Nu prominent among them.

Quite simply, we are blessed to be part of the greatest fraternity in the world.  Sigma Nu deserves another 140 years and beyond, but she needs our financial support.  There is a line in the movie “True Grit” to the effect that there is nothing free in the world except the grace of God.  I believe that also free is the will of man. We are free to put our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor behind that which we believe…the Life of Love, the Way of Honor, and the Light of Truth.

Thus, I pray that, for the sheer joy you will experience today—and for the benefit of generations of tomorrow you will never know—you take time this Independence Day to pledge an appropriate measure of your fortune in support of the great ideals and work of our beloved Fraternity.  It will be etched in history if you do.

Br. Densborn is a past Regent and longtime volunteer for the Fraternity.

How Wikipedia reminds employees of the organization’s mission

The April 2011 issue of Fast Company profiles Sue Gardner, the new executive director of Wikimedia Foundation, which operates the free online encyclopedia Wikipedia. The full story is worth reading as an example of “officer” transition and setting ambitious goals for growth.

One paragraph in particular stood out to me as an innovative and symbolic way to remind Wikipedia employees and volunteers of the organization’s mission:

Recently, Gardner spoofed Wales’s evangelical zeal by putting a picture of the founder in the employee bathroom above the aspirin and dental-floss basket and typing up a mock plea from Wikipedia’s benevolent founder. “This basket exists for one reason: the free and open sharing of personal-grooming items. For many of us, most of us, this basket has become an indispensable part of our daily lives. Help protect it now. Please make a donation.”

The crowdsourced Wikipedia is, of course, produced entirely by volunteer editors who donate their knowledge and talents for the greater good (aside from a small staff to run the organization). This sharing box in the bathroom constantly reminds Wikipedia employees of the organization’s mission to share free information.

This small example got me thinking – what are some similar ways your chapter can constantly remind members of Sigma Nu’s mission to produce ethical leaders inspired by Love, Honor and Truth? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.

(By the way, Sigma Nu’s Wikipedia page could use a few good volunteer editors.)