38 - Over a Century of Speeches

Since Chi Omega’s Founding, our Sisterhood has centered around conversation and sharing ideas. Several speeches over the years have illuminated Chi Omega’s values of academic excellence and intellectual pursuits, as well as personal and career development. Years of Conventions and Firesides meetings have offered stages for orators to share their messages with members and create memories that remain in our archives years later.

Today, we open those archives to take a look at some of the most memorable and moving speeches that have graced the stages of our Chi Omega events, and share excerpts with you in hopes that the messages continue to transcend time.

Kirk Bell Cocke Hassell, Ethics & Values

Kirk was known for her ability to speak in ways that moved Sisters. Being named a Distinguished Balfour Lecturer was just a small window into her accolades. Her words are timeless, and still shed light on situations the Fraternity faces today. Her keynote address from Convention 1988, still packs a powerful message!

Sisterhood is caring enough to say to a Sister who is abusing herself, her reputation, and your chapter’s: “Knock it off! I am not going to stand idly by and let you destroy yourself, your future, and the reputation.” This is far more caring and loving than ignoring anything she does.

Character takes no account of what you are thought to be, but who you are. Character is having that inner light and the courage to follow its dictates. The language of character is behavior. As Emerson said, “What you do speaks so loudly, I cannot hear what you say.”

Just as the moral character of a nation is shaped by the moral character of its citizens, in like manner, the only thing wrong with fraternities or any other organization is the sum total of what is wrong with its individual members.

E. Gordon Gee, Chancellor, Vanderbilt University, June 27, 2004

President Gee joined our Chi Omega Sisters for a picture at the annual Dance Marathon event supporting the WVU Children’s Hospital, photo courtesy of thedaonline.com

Pictured above President Gee was then the Chancellor at Vanderbilt, later President of Ohio State, and now President at West Virginia University. Dr. E. Gordon Gee is one of America’s most prominent higher education leaders, having helmed universities for more than three decades. In 2009, Time magazine named him one of the top 10 university presidents in the United States. Recently, the website Great Value Colleges named him the nation’s top university president. Throughout his career he has worked closely with Chi Omega, and joined Sisters at the 2004 Convention as our keynote speaker.

Long considered a path to a good job, education must also be the way to a good life, not only for the graduates but their communities. Universities represent the value center not found today in the political world or in business. Higher education trains a moral imagination and a sense of responsibility to others. The need for a return to these first principles is evident in the headlines. Too many CEOs and CFOs are in handcuffs, too many public officials at every level are in disgrace and incarcerated, convicted of impropriety and illegality. The call for principled leadership is loud, and the nation looks to higher education to raise us all up.

Ladies of Chi Omega: as educated women, it is not enough for you to be competent within a certain skill set or gain a professional credential. When you graduate, you are expected to take responsibility for civic values, to promote social justice, to exercise ethical judgment, and to re-weave the social fabric of our society. The needs are great. The nation’s expectations for higher education and for you are high, and they should be. My expectations for you as Chi Omegas are even higher, because I understand what this Fraternity stands for. Chi Omega’s commitment to integrity, academic excellence, service to others, and leadership echoes the vision of our universities. The Fraternity encourages social conscience and enables social change.

At its best, Greek life is a worthy partner for higher education. Its promises complement our purpose.

Sororities and fraternities are no longer places simply to have a good time for four years. Nor do I believe they ever were just that. Today, Greek chapters need to be relevant. They must advance the goals of the college or university. They should furnish leaders for the campus. Importantly, they must be true to their purpose. These are not easy tasks.

But perhaps the greatest gift you will take from Chi Omega is confidence: the confidence to face criticism and peer pressure; the confidence to stand up and speak out, to do what you know is right; and the confidence to extend moral leadership beyond your Chi Omega chapter to the campus community.

The Greek community can be a vital part of university life. Universities are more than our libraries, laboratories, studios, and classrooms. We are a community of learners – students and faculty alike, who are seeking a better life for all citizens. Your leadership improves the campus. It also enhances your college days. Becoming an educated person includes being informed, empowered, and able to discern the consequences of your decisions and actions. These are lessons well learned from Chi Omega.

You are the Chi Omega symphony, each individual one of you, and each of your chapters, and this national presence and organization — a composition of different elements, brought together in harmony. And so I say to every one of you: see what you can do with your music; see what you can affect with your sound!

Jobelle Holcombe, Psi Founder, Speech to Psi, Fall Eleusinia 1957

Founder, Jobelle Holcombe, spoke to collegians at the Psi chapter house for about 45 minutes in 1957. In a recent 2015 acquisition we now have the full recording of her speech in our archives.

I would like to emphasize before I go into something else that even though we were very young and apparently our origin was very simple, and to those of you who do so much now, and who know how large the Fraternity is now, and know even though we might appear very simple, we were a sincere group of young women who had very definite ideas of the womanly ideal and definite ideas of what an intelligently trained woman could do in society. We thought often of our privileges in the social order and indeed often of our responsibilities to our fellow students and indefinitely to our society in the large. As we grew older and meant to make our contribution to what has turned out to be such a remarkable democracy in a very torn, disturbed world. I’m quite sure if we were discussing our ideals and our purposes in life, we would emphasize the influence of group living as a beginning for understanding of our position in a democracy where people are bound together with a clear understanding and a sympathetic heart.

Jobelle Holcombe speaks to the collegians in the living room at Psi Chapter House, 1957. Photos obtained from Psi alumna Virginia Ellzey, seen in the first photo, seated, wearing a lace collar.

Dr. Mary Ann Carroll, Alpha Delta Leadership in a Changing World and Spider Speech,

Mary Ann Carroll was a favorite speaker on many occasions. One of her most notable speeches was her speech on leadership at the 1988 Convention. 

I believe a leader can make a difference and sometimes even shape history. A valid leadership model is transferable to all kinds of leadership positions. Leadership is the ability to orchestrate ever changing, interactive events, resources, and personnel for the accomplishment of leader identified goals.

Mary Ann shared a couple verses of “Natural History,” a poem by E.B. White, the author of Charlotte’s Web.

The spider, dropping down from twig,
Unwinds a thread of his devising:
A thin, premeditated rig
To use in rising.

And all the journey down through space,
In cool descent, and loyal-hearted
He builds a ladder to the place
From which he started.

Mary Ann explained this five faceted web offers the structural image for the leadership model since the components of leadership can be expressed in terms of the five points and the home base to which we all are tethered. Those five threads of the leadership model were described by Mary Ann as: vision, knowledge, creativity, communication, and commitment. The home base to which we are all tethered is our values. This is the place from which we started.

Thus I, gone forth, as spiders to,
In spider’s web a truth discerning,
Attach one silken strand to you for my returning.

Dr. Mary Ann Carroll at the podium at a Convention at The Greenbrier in the 1960s

Margaret Carroll, Xi and daughter Mary Ann Carroll at Convention 1976

Cleta Mitchell, Epsilon Alpha, Chi Omega is not a Bed and Breakfast, June 20, 1996

Cleta Mitchell is an American lawyer, politician, and conservative activist. Elected in 1976, Mitchell served in the Oklahoma House of Representatives until 1984, representing District 44.

The Chinese proverb of “A journey of 10,000 miles begins with a single step…” applies to us. If we, the Chi Omega actives and alumnae of 1996, take the right steps along the right path, then we can begin the Chi Omega journey to a celebration of the Chi Omega Bicentennial in 2095. It may seem impossible – but it happened once. Surely those four young women and Dr. Charles Richardson never dreamed that one day we would all gather in Fayetteville in 1995 and celebrate what they did there in April of 1895 – but we did.

I would submit that there are 5 elements that can be found in each and every organization, institution and system that has celebrated a bicentennial, and that the elements are these:

The first and most crucial factor essential to an organization, system or institution existing for 200 years is a common set of beliefs, a common value system. I will refer to this as understanding that Chi Omega is not a bed and breakfast. What does that mean? It means that we have certain beliefs and principles that rise above mutual interests and hobbies. It means that we may not all be alike, but we must share certain fundamental values or else we don’t stay together as a unit. It means that we are not simply a loose collective of young women who pool our resources and funds to share living quarters for a while and attend weekly business meetings together. Chi Omega is NOT a bed and breakfast. It isn’t a boarding house and it isn’t an apartment complex. We are not just meeting and party planners. It does matter what we do and what our Sisters do – and what we do affects everyone else. That’s what makes us different from a bed and breakfast. There is no way to build a lasting organization if you don’t look out for one another and get involved in helping one another with the hardest parts of their lives. Particularly not for an organization like Chi Omega that holds itself out as being concerned about the fundamental character of its members. Chi Omega is not a bed and breakfast – and you should take stock of your chapter to make sure it isn’t in danger of being one.

The ability of a group of people to communicate through language requires not only the common language but also the common thought, vision, and mental pictures. People are desperately seeking to better understand one another. All of us – active, alumnae, advisors, House corporations, executive office staff and officials – we must all have a common commitment to communicate according to Chi Omega’s purpose.

We have LOTS of ritual in Chi Omega – and we need that common ritual in order to survive to our 200th birthday. But the danger with rituals is that they can become habits – so taken for granted that they lose their meaning and effectiveness. We have to work at keeping the spark alive in our rituals, sort of like working at our relationships, our marriages.

Our intergenerational links in Chi Omega make this one of the most special parts of our lives. One of my most memorable events of the Chi Omega Centennial was in Fayetteville at the Psi Chapter House on Saturday evening, when Chi Omegas of all ages gathered in the living room and started singing Chi Omega songs. So many of the songs have been passed along from one pledge class to another, one generation to another. It was a special and spontaneous time. It is what most vividly demonstrates the importance to Chi Omega of our intergenerational involvement. We will be Chi Omega alumnae much longer than we are Chi Omega actives. And I believe to the tips of my toenails that the strength of every active chapter is in the strength of the advisory board, the House Corporation, and the alumnae support for the chapter.

The environment for Greek organizations has changed dramatically in the past three decades: The changes in the student population on campus: older students, more students attending part time, more students working while attending school leaving less time for involvement in a Greek organization. Changes in rush rules, making it harder and harder to reach incoming students to encourage their membership in a Greek organization. How Chi Omega adapts to these changes in the world around us – how the Greek system and other Pan Hellenic groups adapt – all will impact Chi Omega. How we respond to those changes and challenges will determine our fate.

We end to where we began. Chi Omega is NOT a bed and breakfast: We do have a strong set of values and high purpose; we are dedicated to improving our ability to communicate with one another; we celebrate our rituals and our many generations of Chi Omega – we have the basic tenets necessary to survive, if we hang on to them. And we are committed to understanding and adapting to the changing world without losing our traditional strengths. All this will put our Fraternity on the right path to celebrating another century of life. I have no doubt that Chi Omega is up to the task.