Inaugural Address of Venerable Grand Prytanis Dr. James Hickey
I am humbled to stand before this gathering of the TKE Family, a celebration of Tau Kappa Epsilon that we are blessed to experience every two years at Conclave when the Grand Chapter comes together in fellowship to sustain our heritage and focus on the next steps of our enduring journey.
I’d like to take a moment to thank my predecessor, Chris Hanson, now a Past Grand Prytanis. I salute you for your service to Tau Kappa Epsilon and your twelve years of servant leadership on the Grand Council.
In a special way, I’d like to thank my wife Cindy, my TKE sweetheart, and the love of my life for her forbearance and her appreciation of all things TKE. Serving on the Grand Council for the last ten years and in the days ahead would not be possible without her enthusiastic support. Twenty years together, four children, more than 30 Grand Council meetings, countless TKE conference calls, and hundreds, if not thousands, of hours later – immersed in Tau Kappa Epsilon, she is more indulgent than ever and still makes make heart skip a beat. I’m not sure she knew that when she agreed to “until death do us part” it would also include “Fraternity for Life.” An incredible mom to Madeline, Ryan, Jared, and Charlie, Cindy keeps me grounded, particularly on days like this. When we get home to the Boston area, she will have no trouble making sure I put out the trash. I’m grateful to my family for their support, including my mom, who is here as well and has always been a source of optimism for when the climb on any part of the journey became steep
To all of you across the TKE nation, both near and far, who have sent good wishes and offered support, I am extraordinarily grateful. Though only one man holds of the Office of Grand Prytanis at any given time, the work to advance the mission of Tau Kappa Epsilon cannot be accomplished alone. The men who have held this Office before me and upon whose shoulders I stand have worn the cloak of cherry red and gray and carried the torch of love, charity, and esteem to forge a heritage that is unique and singular. They have been the embodiment all we value and the guardians of what we hold sacred.Mindful of their example, I accept the responsibility of Grand Prytanis with humility, pledge fidelity to the extraordinary legacy of Tau Kappa Epsilon, and promise to work energetically to enrich the legacy you have entrusted to me.
Tau Kappa Epsilon is a journey. On the day we knelt at the altar and recited the bond, we joined Tau Kappa Epsilon. It takes a lifetime, however, to become Tau Kappa Epsilon. Past Grand Prytanis Bruce Melchert has been a TKE for more than 66 years and earlier today he shared with me he is still growing as a TKE. For most of you, your journey has just begun. And that journey must be grounded in mission.
On that cold night of January 10, 1899 when Joseph Settles, James McNutt, Clarence Mayer, Owen Truitt, and Charles Atkison gathered at 504 Locust Street in Bloomington, Illinois and formed the Knights of Classic Lore, they created a society whose avowed purpose was to “aid men in their mental, moral, and social development.” Our mission has been present since our founding and has endured for our entire history.
Our founders wanted an organization that would be different from the other fraternities. They wanted to establish a fraternity of men whose primary requirement for membership would be based on “personal worth and character,” not the wealth he possessed, or the connections he had, or the lineage from which he came. It was 1899 and this philosophy was very progressive for the time and we never looked back. And that membership requirement based on “personal worth and character” that was codified in our Declaration of Principles during the winter of 1907-1908, has withstood the test of time. When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law, all Greek organizations – except Tau Kappa Epsilon – had to revisit their sacred texts and eliminate the discriminatory practices contained in them.
"Tau Kappa Epsilon has always been singular. We have always been progressive and we have always been bold. And history has shown that we have been right because our values are abiding."
Tau Kappa Epsilon has always been singular. We have always been progressive and we have always been bold. And history has shown that we have been right because our values are abiding.
From his Opportunity of Defeat speech in 1907, Frater Wallace McCauley remarked: The Greek letter societies have degenerated from their original purpose of the cultivation of literary attainments to mere social clubs. They have put the social feature in the ascendancy and have let everything contribute to that end. As a result there has developed a school aristocracy with all that it means - show and pretense have been magnified at the expense of true worth; they have fostered extravagance among students when economy was required; they have made secretism a fetish and symbolism an idolatry; many of the palatial home of the fraternities have been the scenes of ribald drinking bouts and excesses the worst imaginable, and too often their gruesome ceremonies have resulted in severe injuries and even the death of their initiates…
That was written 112 years ago, but it has a striking resemblance to today. It’s no secret the Greek world, including Tau Kappa Epsilon, is on the receiving end of criticism from the academy and from the media and from many other corners of society. While we do not manage the Greek world, we have a responsibility to lead it, and we always have.
What has enabled us to lead with confidence and continue on an accelerating trajectory of success is the mission of Tau Kappa Epsilon: “to aid men in their mental, moral, and social development,” manifested in our core values of “love, charity, and esteem” and “personal worth and character.” The mission of Tau Kappa Epsilon is not another thing on the plate. It is the plate.
Our values are abiding. We know what we stand for. We know what is required of us. And we must continue to be bold and progressive. The way in which Tau Kappa Epsilon must continue to meet the educational, professional, ethical, and social needs of men must always exceed societal expectations.
Platitudes and clichés, while popular and inspiring, are not enough. We cannot say one thing and then do another. “We believe in secretism insofar as it enables a fraternity to protect the confidence of the brotherhood. Secrecy that is promoted for selfish purposes or utilized to cloak fraternal wrong-doings we unsparingly condemn.” That’s not from the ninth paragraph that we frequently reference. It’s from the tenth and it is as uncompromising as “love, charity, and esteem.” It’s about “personal worth and character.”
And should we say one thing and do another, our actions are not aligned with the values of Tau Kappa Epsilon or exceeding the rightful expectations of 21st century culture. Tau Kappa Epsilon has always been forward-thinking. We make tough, strategic decisions that has served and inspired generations of TKE’s. And the only pathway forward is the pathway of mission, which is more relevant than ever.
Mission is the beacon that lights the way and defines the value of membership in Tau Kappa Epsilon. The mission of Tau Kappa Epsilon must be paramount in all we do. It must be the lens through which we chart our course and continue to inspire all the men who have every right to an Expectation of Excellence that Frater Donnie Aldrich announced as the theme for this biennium.
"When facing a decision point, the litmus test to move forward is a simple question: Does this “aid men in their mental, moral, and social development?” The far more complex task is how to move forward once we determine the decision is mission-aligned. Mission is the soul of organization, but its budget is its conscience."
When facing a decision point, the litmus test to move forward is a simple question: Does this “aid men in their mental, moral, and social development?” The far more complex task is how to move forward once we determine the decision is mission-aligned. Mission is the soul of organization, but its budget is its conscience.
Tau Kappa Epsilon is healthy and strong, but we need a pathway to greater financial sustainability. Mission cannot be advanced without the resources to do it. We need to keep our business plan bold, we need to continue the trend of precipitous decline in risk incidents, we need more alumni to support Tau Kappa Epsilon with their dollars, and we need to continue to defy current trends and increase our membership even more.
It is not a quick fix, but it is the only pathway. The Declaration of Principles, also 112 years old, is instructive: “By the tenor of our daily action we should evidence our devotion to the principles we have solemnly obligated ourselves to observe.”
The founders of Tau Kappa Epsilon were men of faith. Joseph Settles and Owen Truitt were ministers of the Methodist Church and the influence of that faith-tradition has inspired our non-exclusionary heritage. “Light yourself on fire with passion and people will come from miles to watch you burn” is great advice from the founder of the Methodist Church which all but certainly influenced the founders of Tau Kappa Epsilon.
If we truly live our mission, if we truly exemplify “personal worth and character” in the tenor of our daily lives, we will continue to inspire men and leave a trail they want to follow. As we begin our 61st biennium, I ask you to join me in living the mission of Tau Kappa Epsilon more fully, to advance our journey of excellence. Organizations are only founded once and the best ones renew themselves continuously. These are the organizations with highest expectations of excellence.
Tau Kappa Epsilon is well-positioned for continued success. With God’s grace, with faith in our heritage, with confidence in our future, with talented staff and unswerving volunteers committed the “magnificent obsession,” with the timeless wisdom of our founders, and with fidelity to mission, the best days of Tau Kappa Epsilon lie ahead. May the Lord bless and keep us, may He be kind and gracious to Tau Kappa Epsilon, may He look upon us with favor and give us His peace.
Fraters, I love the Fraternity.