Each May as we celebrate another year of Chi Psi Brotherhood, we are reminded to look back to the founders and their vision of Chi Psi to carry us forward. In that spirit of looking back to those who have come before us, for this year’s Founders’ Day blog series, we asked each Central Office staff member to give some older and wiser pieces of advice to his freshman self.
Next up, we’ll hear from Alpha Services Coordinator James Holman, Rho Delta ’13.
In the spirit of complete honesty and transparency, if given the option I would choose to say absolutely nothing to a pre-Chi Psi me. This isn’t because I was perfect at 18. No, I have made and continue to make plenty of mistakes. One of those mistakes might have been choosing to wait a year to join a fraternity. Life could have been better with an additional year as a Chi Psi. Somehow, I doubt it though. Any advice that I could give myself would fall on deaf ears or serve to cheapen the gains from my learning curve. So much of life is about deriving our own fundamental truths from our experiences. David Foster Wallace addressed this concept while giving a commencement address to Kenyon College ten years ago this month.
A huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. Here’s one example of the utter wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe, the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely talk about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness, because it’s so socially repulsive, but it’s pretty much the same for all of us, deep down. It is our default-setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth.
I have shared and discussed that whole speech with so many people that it still shocks me a little when I find out just how few people have come across it. The “capitol T” Truth is that perspective is one of the greatest gifts that aging gives. As an eighteen year old kid, I guess I can’t speak for everyone, but going to college five hours away from home was a jarring experience. I vividly remember that sinking, twisting feeling that I had sometime during orientation week when I realized that I was on my own. It took a couple days for the climax of the months of anticipation and fervor to subside. But when it hit me, I had changed. And life is like that. It hits you when you least expect it right in the gut. Right after we collect ourselves, stumbling up to the dresser to take a look at our changed self in the mirror. Those raw feelings are the first signs of a fresh perspective. Like the ringing in your ears after a concert, those old thoughts are suddenly less than concrete and unlikely to reverse course.
I was extremely blessed last month to celebrate five years as a Chi Psi by helping to conduct a joint initiation of two Alphas. Alpha Rho graciously opened its doors of the finest address in New Brunswick to the Brothers of Kappa Delta. The same man who had initiated me was at my side five years later on about the closest thing to equal terms, given my lack of experience in comparison. I have a rich Chi Psi experience. The friendships that I made during my undergraduate days are still vibrant, and I have been very fortunate to have the unique experience of visiting these past two years. I have been able to learn so much more about the organization and the different cultures that each of our Alphas cultivates. But I can’t stop thinking about that quote from good old DFW (that acronym still refers to David Foster Wallace in my mind, no matter how many times I have to fly through the airport).
My time as a Chi Psi has been just that—my time. I have witnessed Brothers who have not had a rewarding experience. Sometimes the Alpha that they joined was not the experience they wanted. Other times, they became the unfortunate butt of one joke too many. Occasionally, one mistake at the wrong time made them persona non grata around the Lodge. All of this combined makes me want to renege on the initial promise at the top. If I had to go back and give a pre-Chi Psi version of myself some advice it would be the following:
- Chi Psi might not be the best fit for you in Greek Life.
- Greek Life might not be the best fit for you.
- No matter what decisions you make and what experience you might have be objective about it. If you have a negative experience, that does not make all the negative stereotypes true. If you have a positive experience, that doesn’t make all of the negative stereotypes false.
- Above all else, continue to challenge and evolve your perspective.