Just over a month ago, nearly 350 of us gathered in Lexington, Va. to celebrate O∆K’s centennial as part of our Society’s 48th Biennial Convention. Thanks to the tremendous efforts of Executive Director Dr. Tara Singer, Director of Communications and Programs Tracy Lyons and a small army of volunteers, our centennial celebration was truly remarkable.
We honored William Johnston with the Laurel Crowned Circle Award – our Society’s highest and most prestigious honor – for his life-long leadership in business, the academy and through his philanthropic work; we honored five Pillars of Leadership Award winners – Sally Albrecht, Quinton Studer, Michael Riley, Larry Sabato, and Patricia Summitt – for their accomplishments in each of our Society’s five phases of campus life; and we honored past National Presidents Dr. Kenneth Ruscio and Dr. Steve Bisese, and past National Vice President Andristine Robinson with the Cheryl M. Hogle Distinguished Service Award.
Amidst all of the celebrating, outgoing O∆K Foundation President Gene Vance and I hosted a “town hall meeting” with members of the Society to discuss current issues O∆K confronts as well as detail aspects of the long range plan – O∆K 2024: Leading for our Second Century.
Both at that town hall meeting and as part of my “State of the Society” remarks to delegates at the Convention’s first plenary session, I spoke about O∆K’s unprecedented growth in the last two years, including 16,634 new members and the chartering or re-chartering of new Circles at 12 college campuses bringing the total number of active circles to 290. I also spoke about the work of the O∆K Foundation which, during that same two-year period, raised more than $683,000, an unprecedented figure, and awarded $40,000 in scholarships and $12,000 in Clay Grants to circles.
Additionally, thanks to strategic alliances with both Teach For America (TFA) and Gallup, 161 O∆K members were awarded teaching positions through TFA since 2012 and over 257 student leaders took Gallup’s StrengthsQuest leadership assessment during the spring 2013 drive-in meetings, thanks to the generosity of Gallup.
It is my sincere hope that we will continue to work to identify strategic partners in at least each of O∆K’s five phases by June 2016.
Of course, a particular cause for celebration four years ago was our return to Lexington, Va. to a new national headquarters building near the campus of our Society’s founding. Since then, the ODK Foundation transferred a total of $365,000, in FY 2013 and FY 2014, to the Society for payments towards the principal owed to Washington and Lee University. With those payments, less than $65,000 remained to be paid to Washington and Lee to fulfill O∆K’s obligation to own the building outright.
Thanks to the work of the O∆K Foundation, we made the final payment to Washington and Lee while we were gathered in Lexington for the centennial celebration and presented W&L President Dr. Kenneth Ruscio with a check for the remaining balance. As Bill Johnston, who was instrumental in helping the Foundation raise funds to pay-off the building, so aptly put it when addressing the 300+ in attendance at the brunch that morning, we are all relieved we have been able to put the building’s purchase and associated financial obligations to W&L behind us. After 100 years, O∆K now owns and occupies its very own National Headquarters building at the place of our founding! We celebrated with a mortgage burning as part of the headquarters dedication brunch.
Another reason to celebrate is O∆K’s new, redesigned online platform – also unveiled in Lexington last month – which provides a clean, professional and engaging web presence for current and prospective members. As I mentioned to you in January, thanks to modest savings realized from greater efficiencies at headquarters, moneys received from the Harris agreement, and a $25,000 gift from a member of the O∆K Foundation Board of Trustees, Kismet Communications and Protozoa Design were contracted to develop a new and improved web presence. I am confident that you will be pleased with the end-result (please visit odk.org to see it for yourself).
We have made remarkable progress over the past two years.
Our membership numbers have reached record levels; we hired Dr. Tara Singer as our fifth Executive Director; we have made strategic decisions to ensure our Society’s long-term financial viability; we have engaged more national volunteers across various committees, working groups and task forces than any time in our recent history; and we have a plan for implementing significant enhancements to our web page to improve our members’ life-long experience with O∆K.
When I was first elected National President in Charlotte, N.C. in 2012, I used a simple refrain during my remarks after I was sworn into office: “We Are O∆K.” Our members – each of us – embody the Society’s century-old ideals. We honor leadership; we celebrate the leaders who have come before us and those will follow us; and each of us remains stewards of our Society and all those who wear the emblem of membership in it.
I am excited by our work to date and am grateful to each of you for your leadership and service to our Society. I am especially pleased with our work in positioning the Society to both celebrate our centennial and begin our “second century.”
It continues to be among my greatest honors to serve as National President of Omicron Delta Kappa.