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A few years ago, I was waiting on a flight in Atlanta when a gentleman sitting across from me got my attention, “Excuse me? I was a Sigma Nu at ABC University. I noticed your shirt. Where were you a Sigma Nu?” We had a pleasant conversation about the Fraternity and our respective chapters, but on my flight home something about the conversation kept nagging me. It was not until a few weeks later that I figured it out.

I came to realize it was the past tense reference to his Sigma Nu membership that had bothered me about my conversation with that alumnus in Atlanta. As I reflected on our conversation, one of the questions I asked myself was, “I wonder if he is still in contact with his chapter or any other alumni?”

My gut said probably not, and that any contact he did have was likely minimal – I hope I am wrong on that point. On the other hand, I know many, many alumni who use the current tense, “am,” in qualifying their membership and I know for a fact that each of those men engage with the Fraternity on a regular basis and at many levels.

I understand that many people reading this may think that I am arguing semantics, and I fully respect that point of view. In truth, though, it is not the semantics of “was” and “am” that is my point. To me, the use of “was” and “am” is an example of a greater point: How do you view your membership?

The value of membership is different for each brother. In general, though, there is tangible value – branded merchandise, discounts on services and/or products, trips, events, etc. – and there is perceived value – friendship and brotherhood, lifelong learning, sense of belonging, guiding principles and common values. Tangible value can be temporary whereas perceived value tends to stick with us over time.

P1-S2-BadgeWhen discussing your membership in Sigma Nu, how do you qualify your membership? Do you refer to it in the current or past tense? I am neither a psychologist nor a linguistics expert, but it seems to me that the tense we use matters – “I am a Sigma Nu,” compared to “I was a Sigma Nu.” Referring to our membership in the current tense being indicative of something we continue to value and is ongoing. Past tense reference, on the other hand, seems to describe membership as something that has been completed or was temporary. To give you an example, here are some consistent qualities of those brothers I have met over the years who use the current tense “I am”:

I am a Sigma Nu because I try to:

  1. Better my community – including Sigma Nu – through my involvement.
  2. Help others - including fellow alumni - professionally, when I can, through mentoring and networking.
  3. Respect others by listening first, understanding second, and responding third.
  4. Stay informed about what is happening in my world, including Sigma Nu, by keeping my contact information up to date.
  5. Contributing what I can to those causes I believe can improve our society, including Sigma Nu.
  6. Be a servant leader.
  7. Be an example of an honorable gentleman.
  8. Stay engaged with my chapter, as an alumnus, through my alumni chapter.
  9. Live a life of love.
  10. Walk in honor.
  11. Serve in truth.

There is an important component to the sentence stem above that I forgot to mention, “…because I try.” Putting forth the effort is a key ingredient, in my view, to live up to the high ideals of our Fraternity. Not all situations are the same and we may not always be successful, but the effort is a prerequisite of Love, Honor, and Truth.

In writing this article, my hope is that each of us will try to reach out to a fellow alumnus who has become disconnected from our brotherhood – a “past tenser,” if you will – and share with them a reminder adapted from The Way of Honor:

When you were initiated you became part of the stream of Sigma Nu, which winds through Bethany, Mercer, Lehigh, Purdue, and on. It flows from coast to coast, from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, and you are

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9 North Lewis Street, P.O. Box 1869, Lexington, Virginia 24450
Phone: (540) 463-1869 | Fax: (540) 463-1669 | Email: headquarters@sigmanu.org

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