Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Future of DeMolay

It's been a while since I espoused a little bit of my personal feelings on the DeMolay program, but I think I've formulated some thoughts that I'd like to share with everyone. Of course, this brings with it the caveat that these are my thoughts only and are not representative of PA DeMolay or any other affiliated person.

Lately, I've found that I've had a very similar conversation with many different people. The topic is always the same - "Where is DeMolay going to be in X number of years?" Usually, this talk happens with adults who are long time veterans of the DeMolay program. They decry the shrinking size of Chapters and revel in the "glory days" of some past time. Naturally, they see the DeMolay program changing with the times, often wondering if it's morphing into something different. After many of these conversations, I came up with a "theory" of what is going to keep our beloved fraternity going, well beyond its impending 100th Anniversary.

As we all know, DeMolay was founded by Frank S. Land. If one reads the biography of Land presented in "Hi, Dad!", it soon becomes apparent that he began as a blue collar worker, trying to help those in his local community. He started his adult life doing odd jobs, eventually taking over the family restaurant. Eventually, he landed a job at the Scottish Rite in Kansas City, working as an administrative official. He would later become a social dynamo but Frank Land started his life in a very ordinary way.

As the story goes, it was while Land was working for the Scottish Rite that he met a young Louis Lower. Louis's father had died in an accident and he was looking for some after school work to supplement the family income. Dad Land took a liking to Louis and thus commences the organization of DeMolay. But, for my purposes, this is the most important part of the story.

Lower wasn't much different than Land. He was growing up in a home with financial struggles in the American Midwest. While he was a good student, Louis wasn't the valedictorian of his class. He certainly didn't come from a family that had much. It was because of Dad Land and the Order of DeMolay that Louis was given a new lease on life. It provided him a solid foundation on which to build himself up. This is how DeMolay started and this is what makes our program so special.

At some point in our past DeMolay began to "gentrify" itself. The DeMolay program was so good that it attracted the best and the brightest, which modified the internal culture. For the first half of the 20th century, public schools were just that - schools. They didn't have sports, theater  music, or the arts. A young person went to school to - *gasp* - learn! This meant that teens had to find social interaction outside of school, in the community. DeMolay was perfectly suited to fill this niche and naturally attracted a wide array of members. Those young men would go to do great things, providing us with some of our more distinguished alumni, which includes politicians, actors, authors, and more. But, as time went on, schools began offering more and more. They added several extra-curricular activities that were once the sole domain of community organizations. Parents found this helpful, as it meant school was a one stop shop for all their child's needs. With this advent, DeMolay, and similar organizations, started to see a decline in members. While this isn't the singular reason for decreased membership, I believe to be one of the major factors.

We find ourselves in a quandry. Our membership is shrinking and we aren't always attracting the valedictorian, captain of the football team, and lead in the play. Those folks are so involved in school that it's nearly impossible to get them to come to a program like DeMolay. It's not to say that we don't have some of those folks involved, but in practice it's just tougher to interest them. Instead, DeMolay is a great fit for the kids that get passed over. It provides an outlet for young men to participate in several different kinds of extra-curricular activities that they may not be able to enjoy otherwise. In my eyes, this takes DeMolay back to where it started - with working class families who are looking for a positive social outlet.

The DeMolay program is built to take a "B" or "C" average student and give him chances and opportunities that he might not otherwise get in school. Through the DeMolay program, these young men are improved, raising their grades and giving them a leg up on their peers. I'm personally a great example of this. I was a "B-" student in high school. I did enough to get by and keep my parents happy, but I wasn't engaged in school because it didn't offer me anything. However, once I found the DeMolay program, I started to improve. My writing skills excelled, as did my public speaking abilities. Now, thanks to that evolution, I'm able to make a living for myself by utilizing those very skills.

As an organization, we have to stop living in the past. We must recognize that the program that took us to the very top has been supplanted by the public schools. We have to help the program evolve and once again become a valuable part of the community. In my eyes, that means returning to our roots by offering young men the opportunity to experience a world that they might not otherwise get to see. Our members are the most important thing to our fraternity. If we help them grow as people, they'll help us grow in the future.

Frat! ~ "Dad" Seth Anthony

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