Throughout my time as an undergraduate, I have been lucky enough to go to many SigEp Leadership Continuums. I have been to Carlson Leadership Academy, Grand Chapter Conclave, Life After College, and Ruck Leadership Institute. I have even been to non-SigEp Leadership Institutes such as IMPACT and UIFI, both run by the NIC. At each of these events, you show up on the first day and you do the same thing first at each one. You register at the main desk, and you get your name tag. At different Continuums, each name tag is a little different. At Carlson, the track you are attending is printed on the front. At Ruck, you get a nicer lanyard that corresponds to your team’s color (shoutout to the Purple Team). And of course at Conclave, the name tag comes equipped with a sometimes endless stream of ribbons hanging from the bottom. The name tags help others get to know you and where you are from. But nevertheless, at every continuum, you get a name tag. Every continuum, except for one.
When I arrived in Chicago, where all of the Tragos Scholars and mentors met before we flew together to Greece, there was no registration table. There were no SigEp pop-ups directing me to the correct rooms throughout the hotel. And most notably, there were no name tags. I landed at Chicago O’Hare airport, made my way to the Hilton Hotel attached to the airport, and checked myself in at the front desk. After putting my things down in my room, I headed back down to the lobby where all of the scholars who had already arrived were hanging out. I introduced myself to all of my fellow scholars who were getting to know each other.
While introducing myself, of course, nobody was wearing a name tag. However, it didn’t feel as if anyone needed one. I had only met one of my fellow scholars prior to that day, but it didn’t feel as if I was introducing myself to strangers. Now we had phone discussions in the weeks leading up to this initial meeting, and we each recorded a short video to introduce ourselves electronically, but I didn’t get the feeling that either of those were the source of this familiarity that I felt while introducing myself to these “strangers”. I still don’t know the exact source of that familiarity. Maybe it was because I knew that each of them shared the same passions and love for SigEp that I had, which led us all to be selected as Tragos Scholars. Maybe it was the mutual excitement for what lay before us in the next 10 days that made me feel more comfortable. Or maybe something inside me knew that, in that moment, I was meeting some of the most extraordinary men that I will ever have the privilege of knowing in my life. Whatever the source, it didn’t feel like I was meeting these men for the first time; it was more like catching up with old friends after being apart for years.
Within ten hours, we got to know each other on a level that no name tag could ever hope to communicate, no matter how many ribbons are hanging from the bottom. And within ten days, we got to know each other on a level that no combination of words could ever hope to communicate, no matter how eloquent you are. The first significant step that helped us establish that bond took place on our second night in Greece, in a small lounge in a hotel in Nauplion.
The topic of the conversation was “The Purpose of Secrecy.” After a long discussion touching on topics such as the ritual and why we keep secrets both as an organization and as individuals, the conversation began to shift. Brothers began sharing some of the secrets that they hold close to them. Before we knew it, it was 1:00 am, it was extremely warm in the room (we think they shut off the AC at midnight to try to force us to leave), and Brothers were crying while sharing secrets that only one or two people outside of that room knew. We had met each other in person for the first time 72 hours prior, and we were sharing some of the greatest burdens that we carry with us in our lives. But it did not feel out of place at all to be sharing those secrets. Everyone in that room already felt connected to every other person because of that innate familiarity that we all had, so it seemed appropriate to confide in our Brothers. We walked into that room at 8pm feeling familiar with each other, as if we had known one another for years. When we walked out of that room at 2 am, I felt something different. It was no longer a feeling of having known one another for years. The feeling was now an assurance that we would continue to know one another for the rest of our lives.
The next day that had the most significant impact on me happened in Delphi. Delphi was my favorite stop of the trip. The entire town of Delphi consists of three one-way roads, carved into the side of a mountain. Seemingly all of the buildings are hotels, restaurants, or gift shops, all aimed to service the many visitors of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. Visiting the Temple of Apollo was an amazing experience for me because I have always been fascinated by Apollo and the Oracle, but that was not the highlight of the stay. The highlight of the stay in Delphi also was not the hotel itself, even though every single room had a view looking off the mountain at the small port towns and coastline below, and the beds were some of the softest that I have ever slept in in my life. Instead, the highlight of the time in Delphi for me was our conversation on fear.
Prior to this conversation, I was having some internal struggles, and I was hesitant to open up fully, but I could not articulate why. Following the discussion on fear and what our biggest fears in life were, many things became clear to me. One quote that took on new meaning was something that 2015 NJ Alpha Tragos Scholar Kris Alvarez said to me the night before I left for Chicago: “The Tragos Quest to Greece will be a life changing experience, if you let it be one.” Prior to that night in Delphi, this quote meant that I needed to have an open mind to allow new ideas to enter that would change the way I think about life. After that night, I realized that letting the Quest change my life is not a passive act. I had to let the Quest change my life by altering my actions to adhere to that new mindset. The Quest has the ability to change the lives of everyone who experiences it, but only if they actively work to make those changes in their lives. That is something I realized that night in Delphi, it is something I have been working to do since, and it is something I will continue to work to do for the rest of my life.
Following the night in Nauplion discussing secrets, I felt closer to the other 21 men of the Greece Tau chapter than I had felt to any group in my life. Following the night in Delphi discussing fear, I felt closer to myself than I had ever felt before. As the week progressed, it was clear to all of us that we were no longer 16 undergraduates, 4 mentors, 1 Quest educator, and 1 Headquarters representative handling logistics. Instead, we were the 22 men of the Greece Tau chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon. Whether it was having a conversation in the middle of the night about life and love while sitting on the streets of a small port town with four Brothers, or our final night when we all ate dinner and drank wine in the restaurant that sat atop the highest point in Athens reflecting on everything we had been through, those ten days were filled with experiences that I will never forget as long as I live.
Our final moments in Greece finally came, and with that, the long flight back to the US. We landed in Chicago and we said our good-byes as we all went our separate ways. We went back to our lives at school and at work, back in the “real world,” each carrying with us lessons and relationships that will last a lifetime.
Fast forward five weeks, and many of us had the fantastic opportunity to reunite at Conclave in Houston. As is standard with leadership continuums, when each of us arrived and checked into the hotel, we all knew where to head next. Each of us went to the registration table to retrieve our name tags and our ribbons. This time, we each had a new ribbon to hang off the bottom. A beautiful baby blue ribbon with silver writing reading ‘TRAGOS QUEST TO GREECE.” Other Conclave attendees were able to look at our name tags and know that we had attended the Quest, but none of them actually understood what that ribbon represented. It represented the bonds that we all formed during those ten days in Greece, where we got to know each other better than we thought would ever be possible. It represented the leadership continuum that changed all of our lives forever. It represented the one without a name tag.