2023 Founders' Day Address - Ryan J. Vescio Esq., Grand Prytanis
January 10, 2023
My Fellow Fraters,
As we mark the 124th Founders' Day in the history of our beloved Fraternity, we celebrate the 1,549 men who have officially joined the Fraternity for Life this past semester. In reflecting on these newest members, I wonder. What inspired these men to our fraternal table? And what motivated you to join our family through your lifelong commitment to Tau Kappa Epsilon?
Each Frater’s journey to Tau Kappa Epsilon is individualized but often rooted in finding a community. I wanted to take a moment to share my journey.
I was born the son of a car mechanic and a hairstylist. For my parents, life was about survival and college was mere a fairy tale of opportunity that people living in double-wide trailers did not get. The measure of success was managing the day in front of them so they could reach tomorrow. While they believed college was not for everyone and you didn’t need book smarts to survive in the world, college was for their son.
I attended University of South Carolina and walked onto campus with fresh eyes and a passionate energy for a new environment far from where I grew up. Little did I know my first day on campus would lead me to fall rush. At the beginning of that fateful week, I was 500 miles away from home and knew no one on campus. Over the next several days, I found my first Teke family with Nathan White, Wes Newton, Mikey Kriese, Robert Luby, Kevin Major, and Walt Moody - my fellow candidates in the Rho-Omega chapter that fall of 1998 and all of whom would later become the newest Fraters of our chapter.
As my time as a collegiate evolved, I transferred and found a new Teke family within the Xi-Iota chapter at the University of Central Florida. While the Teke spirit was massive, our group was not. Joining a chapter of less than ten Fraters forced me and my new found family to roll up our sleeves and get to work. This hard work formed deep bonds and I still consider my fellow Xi-Iota Fraters my closest personal friends. One of the high honors I’ve had as Grand Prytanis is appointing my good friend and fellow Xi-Iota Teke, Alexander Rudloff, to the Grand Council for us to tap his vast experience that started in our home chapter.
This past semester, I had the honor of attending initiation at UCF and leading the Bond reading to the new Fraters. Although they were expectedly nervous and overwhelmed, watching the Fraternity grow through their initiation was inspiring. As they embarked on their journey as an active member, they were instructed on the rich history of our organization. A pillar of this history is our belief in the character of every man in our membership.
Whether in the chapter room or the boardroom, my time in TKE has highlighted that our Fraternity's true strength lies within our members' diversity. As a volunteer for the past 20 years, I have come to more fully understand how TKE honors the uniqueness of each Frater, the basis of our brotherhood. Our values and viability have been tested in recent years. Through the leadership of our skilled Chief Executive Officer, Donald Aldrich, our dedicated Professional Staff and critical volunteers, we weathered the pandemic and emerged with a stronger organization.
Through the leadership of the TKE Foundation and its Chairman, James Crockard, we are more aligned than at any point in our history to grow the resources to advance the mission of our Fraternity. While our new donor count is growing, we embrace that there are scores of members who can ensure we reach our potential through investing in the greatest Fraternity on the planet.
Our legacy of fundraising is nearly as lengthy as our existence. The Fraternity's first-ever fundraising effort was a $300 campaign in 1908 for a piano for the Alpha chapter house. Today, we face larger challenges and opportunities as we expand our educational programs and support services to meet the needs of a growing Fraternity.
I ask you on this Founders’ Day to reflect on your TKE experience and financially invest in the Fraternity that has taken us on such a wonderful ride.
Along this journey, we've learned much about ourselves and others through the community that our Fraternity provides. As a collegiate Frater serving as an officer, we learn a sense of duty to our chapter and personal responsibility. As an alumnus, we have similar opportunities to grow. We have the option of serving as a Chapter Advisor to help a local chapter. We have the choice to improve others as a Province Advisor or Grand Province Advisor and help several chapters. We have the possibility of running for the Grand Council and charting the path of the Grand Chapter. All of these choices provide life lessons to ourselves while helping to provide a great TKE experience for our fellow Fraters.
From being the first in my family to go to college to becoming Grand Prytanis, I am a testament of what is possible within TKE. While many see Better Men for a Better World as simply a tagline, I see it through the many I have met in my travels who were enriched by the TKE experience. As a number of men might not know our mission, I can testify to its enduring strength as we "aid men in their mental, moral and social development".
On this special day, I ask that you reflect on what brought you to TKE, what keeps you engaged in the Fraternity, and how you can give back. Whether a few dollars of your finances or a few hours of your time, you can make a difference to our current and future Fraters to shape a more prosperous Fraternity. When you do so, you embody excellence, live our bond and showcase the value our Founders fought for in the early days of our formation.
Happy Founders Day, TKE Nation!
Fraters, I love the Fraternity.
Yours in the Bond,
Ryan J. Vescio, Esq.