July 18, 2012 by Drew Stelljes
Guest blogger: Taylor Stephens, a junior from Pennsylvania, adds this blog on the value of fraternity life in his development as engaged citizen and leader.
I was recently asked by a faculty member to reflect upon my first year at the College, and the choices I made that allowed me to be successful inside, and outside, the classroom. It was a tough question. As I thought about the question, I realized part of the story is how I ended up at William & Mary, because it was far from a straight path.
In high school, I had convinced myself that I was destined to end up on Wall Street. When it came to apply to schools, I found a mid-sized private college near my home, a little over an hour from New York City, and put all my eggs in one basket. I got in. Through the fall semester, I split my time between business courses, which I didn’t really enjoy, and the “Animal House”-like antics that were thoroughly imbedded in this school’s fraternity culture (which, looking back, I really didn’t enjoy). Over Christmas break I began searching for a new school that offered a liberal arts approach (since I was now major-less), ample opportunities to get involved on campus, and a culture that encouraged a balance between academic pursuits and forging lifelong friendships. In the end, William & Mary seemed to be the only ‘fit’ for me, and I, once again, put all my eggs in one basket. I got in.
Entering the Orientation period, I had completely written off ever joining a fraternity. My past experience reaffirmed all the stereotypes, and I knew I would never be happy in that type of environment. By the third day of orientation, though, I had decided to attend the Meet the Greeks event that happens every year on Yates field. I caved, and went to the event; which I can now recognize as the defining moment of my time at William & Mary. I spoke to members of every fraternity before ending up at the one I “had to meet.” After an hour-long conversation with the Rush Chair, who was also a transfer from a school with a Greek system he did not enjoy, I was invited to join him for dinner. Over the course of one meal I had been invited to play softball the next day, join a Branch-Out International Trip to Haiti in January (another defining experience), and participated in discussions on politics and monetary policy… I was sold.
For me, the support network, encouragement and leadership opportunities a fraternity can provide have made all the difference. Many of my involvements, including serving as Tour Guide and Orientation Leader, spending my January in Haiti with a Branch Out Trip and summer participating in the DC Summer Institute on Leadership and Community Engagement, and even assuming a leadership position within my Greek organization; have all arisen because a brother of mine put me in touch with someone or encouraged me to apply.
Unlike at other schools, Greek life here is something you do, and in no way who you are. That being said, I am incredibly proud of the individuals I have surrounded myself with in my Greek organization, and their many accomplishments around campus and in the Williamsburg community. Among us, members of the Honor Council and Student Senate; two National Champion croquet players; members of political and religious organizations; members of the board of the Mason Investment Fund and other business organizations; leaders of Branch Out trips to Baltimore, rural Virginia and Ecuador; members of 1 in 4 that promote sexual assault prevention on campus; leaders in a capella groups; various club and varsity athletes; the head of volunteering for an off-campus medical clinic; Monroe scholars; countless Tour Guides and Orientation Aides; and many others that I am sure I will be in trouble for forgetting.
So, my answer to this particular faculty member on what had allowed for a successful transition to the College both in and out of the classroom was my fraternity. While I recognize Greek life may not be for everyone, for me it has played a large role in my William & Mary experience, and I am proud of my decision to join.