My mission to do my letters proud turned into my barely graduating from college. I lost myself in Greek life. Over 25 years later and wiser, I often tell younger Divine Nine members about my academic stumbles to call their attention to the importance of personal accountability as a fraternity or sorority member. However, my mistakes were not a result of being a simple frat boy but rather my failure to marry my individual values with the standards of the frat.
To keep it one hundred, my failures as a Greek in college were my fault. It was my fault that I chose parties over homework and step practices over studying. The aims of my fraternity are crystal clear—“Manly deeds, SCHOLARSHIP and love for all mankind.” That’s why I quickly stop people who blame Greek life for students’ setbacks. If it’s Greek life’s fault, why do I have so many frat brothers who graduate with GPAs over 3.0? I was no longer true to who I was—a man of excellence.
That said, I issue a stern warning to fraternity and sorority members—know who you are. As I mentioned in my very first Greek life blog for HBCU Lifestyle: How to pick the best fraternity or sorority…for YOU, every interested member should know himself or herself before even considering a fraternity or sorority. As I say in “The Black Greek Success Program”, knowing who you are is the difference between becoming a slave to your letters or investing in the mission of your organization. Had I invested in Alpha’s mission, I would have been one of those brothers who graduated with much more dignity like so many of my frat brothers and other Black Greeks do.
Here is how I think you, a college Greek, can continue to do your fraternity or sorority proud while being true to who you are.
Never forget why you are in college.
College is your first big step in your journey toward a great career and life. When you think of it that way, you should have no problem placing academics above Greek life. Think of it this way. As a job recruiter, I am currently looking at recent college grads for a national project. While a GPA is not the primary reason I would recruit you, it is still important. A high GPA tells me that you have prioritized your future and it moves your résumé closer to the top of the pile.
Besides, you would not have a fraternity or sorority to pledge without the college you attend. Also, almost every single fraternity and sorority—black, Latino, white or otherwise–has something in its mission or aims about dedication to academic excellence.
Never forget where you came from.
Our formative years helped build our social values, sense of work ethic, and mental grit among many other things. These are all things that helped form our personalities. For some this is a great thing while it isn’t so great for others. Whatever your view of those early years, use them as motivation to be the best you that you can be.
Never forget whose you are.
My parents were high school teachers whose students went on to become business owners, professional entertainers and artists (including opera singers who graced stages of Europe), educators, and elected officials. It’s safe to say that I could not commit a crime in my community. I was, and still am, “Mr. and Mrs. Francis’ son.” The deeper I got into my career and my responsibility to my community, the more I embraced being the youngest child of Nelson and Juanita with everything I had.
We have a responsibility to our people. For those of us whose families and friends built a fine reputation in our communities, we are a part of a beautiful tradition. For those whose families have been on the opposite end of the spectrum, we belong to a tradition that needs an agent of change. Your wearing letters is an indication of how much faith someone had in how you can be a catalyst of a community.
Never forget what you want to be.
One reason we were attracted to the organizations we belong to is we saw it as a part of our journey. An integral part of Divine Nine life is the poetry we memorize because that poetry motivates us. So many of us are dreamers and our dreams are priceless. When we invest in our letters, they amplify our personal values and our ambitions. Stay focused on who are and that will serve as a foundation for you to become what you want to be.
Always have balance in your thoughts.
It is important to challenge your own thinking about situations before you take action. For instance, I chose parties over academics because I didn’t challenge myself to stay true to who I knew myself to be. Throughout college and the few years following your graduation, you will hear a lot of background noise from people and you will be tempted to sway in certain directions.
A Psychology Today blog post titled “To Thine Own Self Be True” offers five critical questions that we should ask ourselves to make sure we are true to who we are:
“How much of the time do you feel that you can be the real you? Are you easily influenced by other people? Do you always stand up for what you believe in? What are the barriers to being yourself? How well do you know yourself?”
The last question is the most critical because I believe answering that one is the key to navigating almost every situation in life. Knowing who you are is what makes your letters shine the brightest.