By: Director of Development Tyler Wash, Georgetown ’06.
In a San Francisco hotel at 7:35 p.m. on August 2, 1923, President Warren Harding dies suddenly. This death causes a whirlwind of activity from coast to coast. San Franciscans hear the news of the President’s death and begin rioting in the streets, but the main priority was to locate Vice President Calvin Coolidge who was on the other side of the country vacationing in Vermont.
Four hours later in Vermont, Coolidge was awoken with the news of Harding’s death. In a hurry, Coolidge recruits his father (who was a notary public) to administer the oath of office in the family’s vacation home. In a rush of activity, which no one ever expected, the man who many called “Silent Cal” had just become the 30th President of the United States and arguably the most powerful man in the world.
This is an interesting start to a story. It is hard to put ourselves in his shoes and know what he was thinking and feeling in the middle of that night. I dare to bet that you have never been woken up to someone telling you, “You are now the leader of the free world.”
It is hard for us to relate to these larger than life figures that rise to the occasion on a monumental level. President Coolidge has some wonderful lessons to teach us as Fraternity men, but before we can listen to his words, we must relate to him. With all due respect to our 30th President, Calvin Coolidge, let’s simply refer to him as our friend and mentor, Cal.
Cal was a fraternity man. In fact, his wife, Grace, was a sorority woman. In 1895, Cal initiated in to the Phi Gamma Delta (FIJI) chapter at Amherst College. Grace was a charter member of the Vermont Beta chapter of Pi Beta Phi at the University of Vermont. They were the first greek couple to reside in the White House. (Interesting fact: The only full size portrait of Calvin Coolidge painted during his presidency is hanging at the Phi Gamma Delta Headquarters and the Fraternity donated the copy to the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.)
See, I told you he was relatable.
Cal was a hard worker. He was the son of a storekeeper and worked his way up the political ladder. He started as a councilman from Northampton to Governors of Massachusetts. In 1921, he then was chosen to be the vice presidential candidate.
Not a bad career path for a self-made man.
Cal was a quiet man. My favorite story about Cal is that one night at the dinner table a young woman sitting next to him leaned over and said, “Mr. President, I have a bet that I could make you say at least three words.” Without looking at her he quietly responded, “You lose.”
A man of few words, but his whit was sharp.
Cal had an interesting and productive time as the nation’s chief executor. I will not go into his accomplishments or his short comings as President, but I do encourage you to read more on your own. I would recommend starting at the official White House website (
Email me if you want to chat more about Cal’s time in office.
Now that we feel comfortable with Cal and are able to relate to him a bit more, let’s looks at one of his more famous quotes.
“All growth depends upon activity. There is no development physically or intellectually without effort, and effort means work.”
He is likely talking about the economy and the growth of the nation. But let’s pretend for a moment that Cal is talking fraternity man to fraternity man … FIJI to Phi Kappa Tau. Growth is a necessity in a Fraternity and is an expectation in Phi Kappa Tau.
Growth as a chapter through recruitment.
Growth in community service hours.
Growth of yourself as a fraternity man.
All growth depends upon activity and to achieve activity each individual must put forth an effort and put in the work. In recruitment you cannot simply expect freshmen to come running into the door, you must put forth an effort to identify, introduce, engage, invite and affiliate with these potential members. (Phi Kappa Tau’s 5-Step Recruitment Process) That’s hard work, but without it you will not grow your membership numbers.
In community service you must continue to grow and give more back to the community. It will not only make your community a better place for all who live there, but it will also enrich the experience of the members. Now community service is sometime hard work, but a chapter must put forth the effort to find engaging (and yes, entertaining) community service activities which make the members want to come out and help.
Finally, personal growth must never cease. Today, you should be a better man than you were yesterday and tomorrow you should strive to be even better. Read the Creed, Mission and Ritual of Phi Kappa Tau and put in the effort to embody these ideals and values. “…try always to discharge the obligation to others which arises from the fact that I am a Fraternity man.” Grow as a Fraternity man. Grow as a man.
That Phi Gamma Delta from Amherst knew a thing or two about today’s fraternity world. “Silent Cal” didn’t say a lot, but when he did his words had meaning. I bet you didn’t know President Calvin Coolidge could teach you about recruitment, community service and being a fraternity man.
As a political science major at Georgetown College, one of my favorite subjects was the American presidency. While I appreciated studying the political decisions of each of the men who have served as the nation’s chief executive, I mostly appreciated learning about their leadership styles and the way they inspired America and the American people to live up to the potential expressed in our founding documents. This series of blogs on the phitaublog has given me an opportunity to combine two of my greatest passions, the history of the American presidency and Phi Kappa Tau, my beloved Fraternity. These blogs are in no way intended to express a political view point and does not strive to make an assessment on how the legacy of an individual president should be viewed. This exercise is simply my attempt to draw inspiration from men who have led our nation with the hope to inspire the men who now lead this Fraternity.