Founders' Day 2021 - James Hickey, Ph.D., Grand Prytanis
January 10, 2021
My Fellow Fraters,
As the Grand Prytanis of Tau Kappa Epsilon Fraternity, I am only a temporary occupant of the Office I was elected to hold. I am mindful of the solemn responsibility entrusted to me—the current occupant—to safeguard the legacy and the future of TKE. One year ago, no one could have anticipated that my tenure as Grand Prytanis would coincide with the challenges of a global pandemic.
Some of my predecessors were faced with significant threats to the survival of Tau Kappa Epsilon. When Frater R.C. Williams became Grand Prytanis in 1944 following a series of unexpected resignations on the Grand Council during the Second World War, there were only 11 chapters and about 100 collegiate members of Tau Kappa Epsilon at that time. It was a monumental threat to overcome and TKE emerged stronger than ever. Although we have experienced significant growth since 1944, the global pandemic has upended higher education on America’s college campuses and Tau Kappa Epsilon is once again facing an existential threat.
In my 2020 Founders’ Day message, I underscored the importance of TKE’s mission because our mission—to aid men in their mental, moral, and social development for life—is enduring. It has withstood the test of time since 1899. Over the last 122 years, Tau Kappa Epsilon has faithfully lived its mission. Paradoxically at this moment in time, Tau Kappa Epsilon needs the aid of its men. Unsurprisingly, many Fraters immediately heeded the call to help TKE confront the Covid-19 headwinds and advance the cause of social justice that rang out across America.
Thousands of Fraters have engaged with the Fraternity for Life in new ways. Using virtual platforms, alumni have reconnected for the first time in decades. Collegiate chapters broke recruitment records despite social distancing. Significantly, more than one thousand Tekes since June made their first gift to the TKE Foundation through Life Loyal Teke (LLT). More than 60 Fraters volunteered to serve on TKE’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee.
Alumni volunteers, professional staff, and collegiates have been more creative and more productive. Virtual programming expanded without compromising the high quality our members expect. In some ways, connecting with a chapter became easier to accomplish through virtual meetings. The Grand Council, which typically convenes three or four times a year, met more frequently. The voices of disenfranchised and marginalized Tekes inspired the Fraternity to deepen our commitment to justice and inclusion.
Our Founders would be proud. Yet, despite all of what we have achieved in the past year, the existential threat to Tau Kappa Epsilon has not abated. Thousands of collegiates struggle to pay their membership dues or are unemployed. Many have lost a loved one to Covid-19. Because of public health restrictions, many chapters are unable to recruit new members. Social injustice continues. These challenges have a deleterious impact on the Fraternity’s ability to sustain the momentum we have created over the last several years.
We have come too far to falter. Failure is not part of the fabric of Tau Kappa Epsilon. “Ingrained in the fiber of every member is the Teke spirit—a spirit typical of our fraternity—a spirit that does not shrink from sacrifice, that knows no defeat; a spirit indomitable.” Those words, cited from Frater Wallace McCauley’s 1907 Opportunity Out of Defeat speech, are as relevant today as ever.
As Grand Prytanis on this Founders’ Day, I declare that now is the time for all hands on deck. Tau Kappa Epsilon needs your “spirit indomitable.” You represent the best of the Fraternity for Life. I urge you to reengage with the Fraternity, to find new and creative ways to support Tau Kappa Epsilon with your time, talent, and treasure.
If you are in a position to support TKE with a financial gift during this difficult time, a donation to Life Loyal Teke through the TKE Foundation will sustain educational programming for collegiate and alumni Fraters. If you are unable to make a gift, share your time and your talent. Can you mentor a fellow Frater? Can you become a chapter volunteer? Can you help find lost alumni? Can you create a MyTKE.org account so we know you are interested in reconnecting? If you are already engaged, can you reach out and encourage other Fraters to do the same?
History has shown that Tekes are undeterred and undaunted by threats to the Fraternity. Within one year of World War II ending, several TKE chapters had restarted their operation, increasing our active chapters to nineteen. A consequential factor in that growth was the Teke Loyalty Fund—a predecessor of today’s LLT Fund—to which TKE alumni were asked to contribute $3. That effort raised nearly $30,000—which is more than $430,000 in today’s dollars when adjusted for inflation. With fewer than 1% of more than 240,000 living Fraters donating to the Fraternity, the promise of an equally inspiring moment in our Fraternity’s history is great.
The current pandemic presents a challenge to the future of Tau Kappa Epsilon, conceivably in ways we have not seen since World War II. History will be the judge of that and of the decisions we make now to sustain Tau Kappa Epsilon for this and future generations. Yet, I know that future generations of Tekes will read about this time in a future edition of The Teke Guide.
To safeguard the mission of Tau Kappa Epsilon, we need untiring and dedicated Tekes who will marshal the Fraternity toward greater financial sustainability and emerge from this crisis stronger than before. The Grand Council and I look forward to continuing to support the philanthropic work of our Fraternity and expand our financial wellbeing—a key pathway to a more secure future.
Organizations are founded only once, and the best ones renew themselves continually. In the challenges that lie ahead, there undoubtedly will be opportunities for all of us to renew our commitment, improve our ways, and exemplify the ideals of Tau Kappa Epsilon that we pledged to uphold when we assumed the Bond.
With God’s grace, with faith in our heritage and a strong commitment to the “magnificent obsession,” with confidence in our future, with inspiration from the enduring wisdom of our Founders, and with the beacon of mission to light the way, the best days of Tau Kappa Epsilon are unquestionably ahead.
Fraters, I love the Fraternity.
Yours in the Bond,
James Hickey, Ph.D.