I submit this basically without comment, other than saying “seconded,” and a tip of the cap to Mr. James Carter, the Vanderbilt student who wrote the column.
I still remember quite vividly the time that one of my close family members laughed at me upon hearing me say that being the recruitment chair of a fraternity was a legitimate extracurricular activity. Apparently, said family member thought my time would be better served kissing up to people in student government or even lamenting the inevitable fall of morality as we know it with the College Republicans. Anything was better than committing 15 hours a week to what she perceived as an organization of drunken idiots.
I came to this school with no small amount of anxiety about the dominance of the Greek system. I’ve always been a fairly social person, but the idea of joining a secret club through the fairly classified pledging process intimidated me. Like the good atheist and freethinker that I aspire to be, I had no desire to be indoctrinated into some kind of crazy “hive mind” atmosphere. Despite my fears, when Bid Night rolled around, I found myself waiting outside a fraternity house in a single file line with 12 other new recruits, all of us wondering what on Earth would be waiting on the other side.
As a practically geriatric second-semester senior, I’ve found that I’ve become even more contemplative in my old age. Looking back three years later, there is no question in my mind that joining the Greek ranks was the right move. It’s important to note that this wasn’t because of the enhanced social opportunities that we associate with the Greek system (although, of course, all of these things were incredible as well); rather, it was the right move for all the reasons that people never really talk about when they bring up fraternal orders.
My parents got divorced when I was six years old, and I lived with my single mother from then until college. Though I would visit my dad from time to time during the week, the practical consequences of the situation meant that much of my development occurred without the consistent guidance of a male figure. Then pledging started, and I instantly had 70 mentors who could help me wrap my head around life and how to live it.
From academics to social matters and from deep existential issues to trivial, mundane ones, I got advice and emotional support that helped keep me sane while trying to balance a college workload with having a real life. How to relate to people that think fundamentally differently than I do; how to talk to girls without looking like a moron (hello, Te’o); how to deal with loss; how to break through a mental block to accomplish things I’d never thought I was capable of; how to find meaning in a world that seems so arbitrary. All of these things and more I learned through the army of a support system that is my chapter.
Of course, you might say that you can derive these benefits from regular friendships that aren’t sealed by some ancient ritual, and you’d be partially right. Friendships provide support and encourage development, too. But there’s something to be said for the general unifying effects of the pledging process. Making one’s way through eight — forgive me, six — weeks of new member education and then watching others move through the same stages for years afterward generates a unique affinity for a group that’s hard to parallel. The shared experience combined with the sheer size of the support network, in my opinion, makes Greek brotherhood significantly different from most normal friendships.
While I hate cliches as much as the next guy, there is strength in numbers. Going though life as a team makes the whole journey both easier and more enjoyable. For various reasons, fraternities and sororities might not be for everyone, and I understand that. Even though others with superficial, misguided conceptions of what fraternal institutions are all about might scoff at this, I can confidently say that my experience as a member of a dedicated brotherhood has defined my time at Vanderbilt. To think that my time could have been served better dedicating more time to the library or some other school club now seems laughable.
As we get older, we’ll forget most of the minutiae we learned in class, most of which we’ll never use in a practical manner (unless you’re an engineer or something crazy like that). The only things that will remain relevant (other than that piece of paper with the word Vanderbilt on it) will be the emotional and intellectual growth we’ve made as people and the relationships we’ve made while here.
If you’re one of the many high school kids I know reads this site, and for some reason your parents are being total dickbags and keeping you from rushing, I highly recommend pointing them to this column…and keeping them far away from TFM.
[via Inside Vandy]