By Michael Christakis
I delivered the following remarks at the conclusion of this evening’s awards dinner as ODK’s 2012 National Convention came to a close in Charlotte, NC:
I’m honored – indeed humbled – to be able to speak with you this evening as National President of Omicron Delta Kappa.
As you all know, today, ODK finds itself in a unique position in our history. This year over 8,000 student leaders were initiated at close to 300 campuses nation-wide. That’s 8,000 of the finest students being initiated at our nation’s premier colleges and universities. To provide you some context, annually nearly 21 million students are enrolled at institutions of higher education in the United States. Almost 21 million. The percentage of those who were offered and accepted membership into our Society is equal to less than one half of one percent. Less that one half of one percent.
That’s a crude estimate, of course, but it underscores the point that ODK is comprised of members who excel in and out of the classroom – students engaged in cutting edge research, student leaders impacting social change in their communities, leading athletic teams, editing school newspapers and directing performing arts productions.
Our future success as a Society is tied to our members, who are, in turn, tied to our Circles.
To that end, between now and our Centennial celebration in June 2014 we must ensure our Circles health and vitality at each campus we reside. Through whatever means, we will provide support to those Circles that initiate annually and to those who have not initiated; we will reach out to our Faculty Officers to ensure that we are doing everything we can to ensure their Circle’s long-term viability; we will think innovatively about ways we can ensure that 100% of our Circles initiate annually.
With the Membership Growth Task Forces report as a backdrop, I have every confidence in National Vice President Michelle Burke’s leadership and her ability to lead the Society’s National Membership Committee forward with a particular emphasis on what matters most: our members. Couple Michelle’s understanding for the challenges our Circles face with a robust and representative National Membership Committee composed of members of the National Advisory Council; we are well positioned to get “back to basics” in ensuring a sound foundation for our Society moving forward.
In fact, it is my hope that the Society’s various national committees will be composed of committed volunteers – both from among those identified to serve on the National Advisory Council, as well as members from throughout the country who wish to serve our Society. Our strength, after all, is our members and their diverse perspectives and experiences will only make us better.
Next, we must identify an individual to lead the day-to-day affairs of our Society as Executive Director. At such a critically important time – both in our history and as we prepare to celebrate our centennial – identifying and hiring someone who can provide the energy, innovation and passion for our Society’s work is of paramount importance. I am pleased to announce that Dr. Steve Bisese, the Vice President for Student Development at the University of Richmond and our immediate Immediate Past National President has agreed to serve as chair of the Executive Director Search Committee. I anticipate appointing a representative search committee in the coming year. It is my hope that a new, permanent Executive Director is in place before we celebrate our centennial in 2014.
In the spirit of progress, we cannot underestimate the “transformational potential of information technology,” particularly for advancing the strategic goals of our organization. ODK has sought to address ‘technology’ issues during the better part of the last decade, but only on the periphery. Some of our limitations have been resource-based, and those challenges remain. However, a whole sale examination of the Society’s information technology infrastructure – both as it relates to Headquarters’ administration as well as our member’s experience – has the potential to positively impact the “way we do business.” I am pleased to announce that Mary Kathryn Steele, outgoing Chair of the National Advisory Council, has agreed to spearhead the Society’s first-ever technology commission. The Commission’s charge includes, among other things, enhancing our member’s web-based experience while keeping them connected to ODK throughout their lifetime.
Additionally, thanks to the good work of the NAC in reframing the way we celebrate our National Leaders of the Year – with an increasingly important acknowledgement of our Society’s five phases of campus life – it is my hope that we will be able to forge new strategic partnerships with organizations that celebrate and value any one of these five phases. Think NCAA, USA Today and other national and international organizations that share a common interest with ODK and our five phases. I’m excited that newly elected National Student Vice President Steve Binninger – who will begin his graduate work at Northwestern University this fall – has agreed to lead the effort of identifying organizations that might mutually benefit from a relationship with ODK.
Finally, what better way to ensure the future viability of the Society than to appropriately celebrate our history? Already much work has been done in preparation for the Society’s centennial celebration in 2014 thanks to the good work of Dan Beeman and the planning committee. Much work remains, however, including engaging Circles in our centennial celebration, honoring our past and building a strong foundation for the next 100 years through the work of the ODK Foundation under the leadership of Foundation President Palmer Gene Vance.
The possibilities, as they say, are endless but can only be realized through our collective efforts.
ODK holds an important place in the higher education landscape. There is no other single organization exactly like ours. To be clear, we are not like any number of “academic” honor societies and we’re not at all like those “mail order” honor societies that have emerged over the course of the last decade.
Our history – our founding – espouses a desire to honor “leadership of exceptional quality and versatility in college.” “That representatives of all phases of college life should cooperate in worthwhile endeavors, and that outstanding … members [of these campus communities] meet on a basis of common interest, understanding, and helpfulness.” These should be familiar words to each of us.
We honor phases of college life that others acknowledge, but do not celebrate. Scholarship, athletics, campus and community service, mass media and the performing arts. Our niche is our willingness to acknowledge that “majors” are minor, and that learning and service are not confined to the classroom, but rather manifest themselves throughout a student’s collegiate experience.
We boast nearly 200,000 living alumni who were reminded during their initiation that membership in ODK is a “life-long reminder that if greatness is to be achieved, one must serve.” Those same members walk the halls of Congress, lead Fortune 500 companies, make a difference every day in their communities through volunteer service, are Heisman-trophy winning athletes, award-winning journalists and world-renowned performers and artists.
Appropriately, as we witnessed the Opening Ceremonies of the 2012 Olympic Games in London, where the Laurel in Ancient Greece was placed atop the heads of champions, for us the Laurel Crowned Circle is both a symbol for “success achieved in worthy undertakings” and a constant reminder of our potential as individuals.
Each of our individual experiences are weaved into our Society’s collective narrative. We are ODK – our members, our Circles, our future.
I am committed to serving each of you – our members who are the very lifeblood of our Society. To that end, I am committed to transparency and accountability. The Society’s Board of Directors is the ultimate caretaker and steward of our Society, and therefore will communicate with our members through a blog – ‘We Are ODK’ – which can be found at WeAreODK.wordpress.com. Myself, my Board colleagues and Headquarters staff will provide updates through this platform on a regular basis.
Additionally, I encourage you to follow me on Twitter – @MikeChristakis – share your thoughts and impressions, whatever’s on your mind. I’ve shared with you my hope – my vision – for our Society, now I want to hear from you.
This is an exciting time for ODK. Our potential – thanks to each of you – has no limit. Above all else, remember that “We Are ODK” – our strength is our members, our Circles – each of you.
I am ODK, you are ODK, we are ODK.
Thank you for the honor to serve. I will serve our Society with a keen acknowledgement of our rich past and a sincere hope for our future.