Written by: Mike Dovilla, Baldwin Wallace ’94

With the arrival of the year 2018, thousands of Phi Taus will be returning to more than 90 campuses across America, and hundreds of alumni volunteers—as well as our Executive Offices staff in Oxford, Ohio—are once again ready to provide the mentoring and other leadership resources you can use to be successful at your chapter. As we gear up for this new year, I’d like to challenge each of us to think differently about a few things as Men of Distinction.

Specifically, I want to encourage each of us to live intentionally in three ways: be optimistic; be hard working; and be abnormal.

Be Optimistic

A pair of leaders from World War II offer some great insights on this increasingly rare virtue. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill observed, “For myself I am an optimist—it does not seem to be much use to be anything else.” And General Dwight Eisenhower, who would go on to be our nation’s 34th president, commented, “Pessimism never won any battle.”

Every man—and every chapter—must pass through moments of challenge. Both you and I have in the past and we certainly will in the future. A difficult class (for me, that would have been in anything related to math!), a brother who doesn’t pay his dues or participate in chapter activities, or perhaps a rivalry with another fraternity on your campus. One of the best ways to work through these situations is by applying optimism.

Particularly as we look at recruitment, it becomes easy to focus on what the other fraternities are doing. That group “dirty rushes,” or this one cheats in some way. If I might share some advice a Navy captain offered in a leadership class I attended earlier this year: “Run your race.” Don’t worry about what they are doing. Plan your work, and then work your plan. Recruit the best and brightest men on your campus. Don’t lower our standards, and don’t accept “projects” you think you can reform. Take good men, and offer them the tools to be great men.

All of this is informed by being optimistic in our approach to recruitment, other areas of chapter operations, and life in general. I know you can continue to grow our fraternity in a meaningful way, because we’ve seen the terrific progress you have helped us make over the past few years. Will this be the year we eclipse that 5,000-undergraduate member goal I announced in January? I’m optimistic it will be!

Be Hard Working

In this time when it seems most folks are willing to accept being average or mediocre, I challenge you not to settle for that pale approach to your existence. Paint in bright colors and be bold in this new school year. What are you waiting for?

President James Garfield, although he was assassinated about a quarter-century before our fraternity was founded, was someone who truly lived the values of Phi Kappa Tau: innate worth and advancement based on merit. He once remarked, “I can express my creed of life in one word: WORK. I believe in work.” Well, I do, too. It’s work that took us to 60,000 doors during my four campaigns for the state legislature. It’s work that took my struggling chapter in 1993 from eight members to 50 members in less than four years. And you’ll need to put in work—hard work— if you want a life in which you don’t just exist but excel.

Be Abnormal

I want you to think back for a moment. Think back more than eleven decades to the campuses of Miami University, Ohio University, and others across the Midwest where the original chapters of our fraternity were born. Those students could have chosen to be normal, to allow the status quo to be good enough. They didn’t. Instead, they chose to be abnormal—to contend that it wasn’t acceptable for other organizations to cheat and prevent perfectly qualified men—indeed, better men—from receiving the laurels they had earned in a track meet at Miami. So, they marched up the stairs of the Old Main Building and they started something new. And our brotherhood has been doing that ever since.

Now, do we always get it right? Of course not. We stray off the path of being abnormal and distinct. We forget that we are Men of Distinction. We engage in behavior that is more frat boy than fraternity man. Have you seen this at your chapter? I have occasionally at mine over the years. Maybe you’ve even been a part of it, or refused to stand up when others were.

We saw that recently at our Leadership Academy in Georgia, where clearly defined expectations and agreed-upon principles were blatantly violated. Where are such normal behaviors being developed rather than the abnormal behaviors our Cardinal Principles call us to live each day? Is it society as a whole? Then we must be better than society. Be abnormal. Is it our chapter cultures that have metastasized over the years? Then fix those behaviors.

Remember why our founders started this organization. Like them, be abnormal. Is it our alumni, some of whom don’t get it and choose to pretend the raucous ways of the 1960s and 1970s are still acceptable today? Then ask them to leave. No one is entitled, simply due to his basic membership, to be involved as a leader in this organization, unless they will align with our mutually agreed-upon values in the Ritual, mission, vision and Creed. Be abnormal. Be abnormal and be a leader in a society—and too often, a fraternity system—of followers.

Deserve Success

Lastly, my wish for you as you begin this new school year—one that is perhaps best illustrated with a brief story:

Our Nation’s first president, George Washington, was known to be a follower of the Stoic philosophy. In fact, he was so enamored of its virtues that he had the tragic play, “Cato,” based on the last days of the Roman stateman, performed for his troops at Valley Forge during one of the darkest points of the American Revolution. General Washington’s favorite line from the play was “’Tis not in mortals to command success, but we’ll do more…we’ll deserve it.”

Brothers, my wish is that you individually and your chapter brothers as a team will realize all the success you deserve in the coming year. Don’t take the easy way out—being pessimistic, lazy or normal. As Washington and his Army did, do more. Deserve success by being optimistic, hardworking and abnormal—challenging the status quo as our Founders did.

I just know we’re going to have another terrific year, and it’s going to happen because you are going to lead—truly lead—on your campus. And it’s because you are going to live a deliberate, designed life that has purpose and meaning and adds value to the lives of others.

Brother Mike Dovilla, Baldwin Wallace ’94, is the former Ohio House Majority Whip, a commander (select) in the U.S. Navy, and principal of The Dovilla Group, a Cleveland-based strategic consulting firm. A loyal Phi Kappa Tau volunteer and donor for more than two decades, he serves today as the Fraternity’s 48th National President.

Earlier this year, Brother Dovilla introduced Tuesday Tau Talks. Reminiscent of FDR’s fireside chats, this series of occasional videos posted on social media is one way our volunteer leadership is engaging in authentic communication and transparent dialogue with brothers across the country.

This article appears in the December 2017 issue of the Laurel, which can be viewed online, in its entirety, at phikappatau.org/laurel.