Thursday, April 26, 2012

Redefining Excellence

What does it mean to be "Excellent"? Last week as I sat in a community-wide meeting (designed to discuss feedback on See Action, Take Action yet diverted to the conversation about the IFC and Panhellenic President's thoughts on the Zero Tolerance Policy), I considered this very question. Such passion and conviction was in that meeting - from multiple perspectives. Once again I found myself back at the core of excellence... The drive to be there. I received the piece below from one of our Graduate Assistants in the Student Leadership and Involvement Center, Taylor Shramo. The primary focus of Taylor's job this year has been investing in one of our fraternities as an advisor. Pouring in resources, energy, vision, support - all with a desired outcome of Excellence. Enjoy a perspective from a first year law student and alumnus of USD. Cheers!

I would like to start this by saying that I speak from the fraternity point of view, considering that is all I have really had first-hand experience with…

Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines excellence as “the quality of being very good of its kind or eminently good.”  I spent most of my undergraduate fraternity experience striving for excellence, both from myself and for my organization.  Looking back, I wouldn’t have it any other way.  But after an evening witnessing the Beta Toast for the first time as an alumnus, something clicked.

Who we are is not defined by what we do.  And when I look back on the achievements of my fraternity, I know that we were excellent not because of the awards and achievements, but because of who we were.  We didn’t strive to do all those community service hours for a requirement, we didn’t achieve the highest GPA for the last 6 out of 7 semesters for recognition.  Hell, we didn’t even act the way we did to win the Dean’s Trophy.  The most we ever did directly towards winning an award was filling out the application.  But this conversation on excellence isn’t about bragging about my fraternity’s accomplishments.

I mention my experiences in fraternity life because it seems like so many organizations and individuals are lost in the Greek community today.  Although “social” in nature, what is a fraternity (or sorority)?  It is a collective of individuals with similar outlooks and aspirations who gather around common fundamentals with a desire to gain brotherhood (or sisterhood), better themselves intellectually and as people, and to gain a unique social experience to augment their collegiate lives.  That is what a Greek organization is all about.  So when you ask someone, what does it mean for a fraternity to be excellent, to be the best?  Sadly the answer (at least at USD) revolves tightly around who throws the best social events and formal.  Who are the people you want to party with? Who has the hottest members?  It is no longer, who are the best individuals, and in regards to the fraternities, who are the most gentlemanly?

Call me old fashioned, but I could care less about the guy who can beer bong 4 beers in under 6 seconds; I am much more concerned with the individual who acts as a gentlemen and strives to achieve the best in himself and those around him. So when squabbles arise over where formal is going to be this semester or whether or not it is going to get canceled because of a zero-tolerance policy, it saddens me to see that the majority of Greek Life only cares about how hard they can rage and how much they can get away with.  Committing 75% of our total budget to social events is how things should be, right? I have no authority to say that group is wrong, but it makes me question.  When a high majority of your money is going to social events and you have more guys in a committee to plan your formal versus how many there are to educate your pledges, or recruit, or take care of finances, what are the priorities?

What kind of motivation is it to join a Greek organization just to drink, party, and go to social events?  That seems like a lot of wasted money considering you can do all those things as an unaffiliated member. I mean the last time I checked, going to Vegas wasn’t limited only to fraternity formals.  On top of that, if you are unaffiliated, you don’t have to worry about the pesky “administration” ruining all your fun with their alleged overbearing and stringent requirements.

I ask all these questions in an effort to better understand why.  People become so up in arms about trivial components of their lifestyles when they should be more concerned with why they make the decisions they make.  Why do we strive to better ourselves?  Why do we desire the bonds associated with these organizations?  Why do we care so much about partying?  What about being in Greek life is really important to me? Why did I join? I believe that when we think about these questions, we might find an answer to the question, “what does it mean to be excellent?”

“Excellence” is a subjective idea.  What may be considered a level of excellence will vary in both subject and degree.  One chapter’s idea of excellence may be raising the most money for their philanthropy, to some holding the best social events, or to others having the best brotherhood (sisterhood).  But at the end of the day, excellence is a combination of all of these.  To be excellent, to be the best, is a culmination of all the different facets of collegiate and Greek life.  This is what was eye opening, it was something I preached and strived for but looking at it now from the outside has illuminated this concept.

Now, in a time when tensions are raised and the bar has been set high, we turn towards finding a way through it.  Aside from really looking into who we are as individuals, members of Greek organizations, and members of a whole Greek community, the answer to finishing out this semester strong and successful comes down to this, how can we exhibit ourselves in a manner worthy of being called, “excellent?”  By holding ourselves and others to a level of excellence, we will continue to push on and grow as strong individuals, organizations, and a community.  

Because at the end of the day, it’s us and those around us that make the difference.

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