By Scott Mietchen
As Phi Delta Theta helps observe National Ritual Celebration Week I was asked to share some thoughts on what it means to “Live The Ritual.” I realize that, from time to time, I am asked by university administrators, parents, alumni, and undergraduate members to give a definitive definition of how I know when a chapter is “living the ritual” of Phi Delta Theta. And when I think about this question I’ve come to the conclusion that I know when a chapter is living the ritual when a mom tells me it’s so. Now, I’m going to come back to this “mom as judge” concept a little bit later, but let me first share some thoughts on being a Fraternity man – with a capital ‘F.”
It would be easy and completely appropriate for me to define ‘living the ritual’ as achieving the highest grades on campus; providing a tremendous amount of community service hours and raising a lot of money for charity; holding a lot of campus leadership positions; and using the ritual in all chapter meetings and functions. And while each of these specific acts are visible, public and measurable – and all are good activities that I certainly encourage – for me they don’t define this idea of ‘living the ritual.’
As I think about the three cardinal principles of Friendship, Sound Learning and Rectitude laid out by our Founders 164 years ago in The Bond of Phi Delta Theta, and supported in the ritualistic ceremonies that are the backbone of our Fraternity, they describe to me the characteristics of my concept of a Fraternity man.
I want to return for a minute to the original view and perception of Fraternity men by the broader society. I have always been struck by a visual representation of a Fraternity man which appeared over a century ago. This cartoonist’s drawing coincided with a gathering of Phi Delts, 112 years ago in Louisville, Kentucky, at the Fraternity’s 1900 General Convention. This illustration was printed in the Louisville Courier-Journal and was the first editorial cartoon about any fraternity convention ever published. If you look closely at the cartoon, you’ll see that it characterizes the Phi Delt as standing somewhat larger, broader and with more presence than the man he is walking next to. This cartoon didn’t represent him as a drunk — or slob — or “Frat Guy” – but as “Phi Man” – as a man of character – a leader of men. This Phi Delt wouldn’t have been featured on TFM (Total Frat Move).
The Founders of Phi Delta Theta were respected leaders of their time and outlined for all of us a set of simple beliefs and principles which, if followed, lead to a life of honor, respect and fulfillment.
To me, living the ritual becomes instinctive, internalized and results in the creation of lifelong habits. And it begins at initiation. As President of Phi Delta Theta, I have had the opportunity of initiating and installing many of our newest chapters. And to each new chapter at the installation banquet I offer the following charge.
“When you were initiated and all signed The Bond of Phi Delta Theta, you agreed to live your lives by three simple principles – Friendship —- Sound Learning — and Moral Rectitude. I charge each of you here to remember and honor those commitments to each other. I charge the men of Phi Delta Theta to:
- To excel in the classroom to the best of your abilities.
- To sit in the front of class, engage with your professors and add to the academic discussion.
- To excel on the athletic field or performance venue– always giving your best performance and exhibiting exemplary sportsmanship and creativity.
- To engage on the campus – get involved in student government and other student organizations. To lead, not just follow.
- To engage in the local community and serve those in need.
- To not abuse alcohol, women or each other.
- Last, but not least, to act in such a manner – both collectively and individually – that all of your mothers, fathers, alumni and friends will take pride in you as a Fraternity man.
If you do that, you will have met the obligations you made when you signed The Bond.”
So, back to the “mom as judge” concept. I know a chapter is “living the ritual” when I hear from the parent of a Phi, which usually turns out to be the mother, who calls or writes to tell me about her son’s experience in the Fraternity. These messages sound like this:
“Having never been involved in a fraternity before, both my husband and I were both VERY impressed and proud to see these young men filled with enthusiasm and dedication. The fraternity has been a wonderful experience for him and I know there will be a void once he graduates this year!”
“The brothers (Missouri Eta – Missouri Western) were going to plunge anyway, but they went beyond a philanthropy project and made it VERY personal for my family. Tanner (who has a disability) is almost 18. We are trying to accept that he will never be married, he will never drive a car and may never attend college. He will never have the opportunity to be a Phi Delta Theta. These men have embraced my family and me and for that I am eternally grateful. Missouri Eta Chapter, from the bottom of my heart, I love each and every one of you. You are compassionate and caring and will ALWAYS be a blessing in my life.”
“I was admittedly apprehensive when he expressed an interest in becoming involved with a fraternity. Our family had no experience with fraternities or sororities and I had some of the typical misconceptions regarding the Greek system. His father and I gave our approval with the caveat that he must maintain a high grade point average and not jeopardize his scholarship, since he wishes to attend law school after graduation. I am proud to say that he is beginning his senior year and has retained his scholarship for all four years in large part due to the scholastic emphasis and support of the Fraternity. I have been very impressed with the level of involvement of the alumni with the undergraduates in Phi Delta Theta. They are truly committed to fostering the development of these young men and certainly stress the virtues that we all wish to instill in our sons: honor, loyalty and responsibility. Personally, I can attest to new levels of leadership and maturity in my son that I believe are directly attributable to his involvement in Phi Delta Theta.”
With time I have become less concerned with “seeing it” in terms of formal activities and more interested in understanding that the process of “living the ritual” is taking place within our chapters. When I hear from a parent with a testimonial like these – I know the chapter is “living the ritual.”
So in closing, here are a few things I believe members of Phi Delta Theta do every day to “live the ritual.”
- We care for one another and lift each other up
- We challenge ourselves, individually, to be better men every day
- We challenge each other to rise to a higher standard
- We call a brother out when he is going down the wrong path
- We don’t turn our backs on a brother in need
- We celebrate each other’s successes
- We believe in words like fraternity, honor, duty, loyalty, leadership, brotherhood, love, and compassion
- We’re not fair-weathered friends
- We take pride in identifying ourselves as Fraternity men
- We believe in the lifetime commitments we made to each other when we signed The Bond
My hope is that all of our brothers do these things – that we each strive to live the ritual to the best of our abilities – because we’re members of Phi Delta Theta – because that’s what Phi Delts do.
Brother Mietchen is the General Council President. Scott is a 1984 graduate of the University of Utah where he earned both his B.S. and MPA. He has served the Fraternity as a chapter consultant, chapter adviser, house corporation president, province president, delegate to the NIC and member of the General Council from 1994-2000 and 2004-Present. Scott became an Iron Phi in 2010. Professionally Scott is President and Managing Partner of Fund Raising Counsel, Inc. (FRCI), the oldest fundraising consulting firm in the Intermountain West. He was recognized as Fund Raiser of the Year in 2006 by the Utah Society of Fund Raisers. Prior to joining FRCI, he served as Vice President for University Advancement at Utah State University. Scott, his wife Lisa, and their children, Abby and Alex live in Salt Lake City.