I want to tell you about two men.
One led a country that was brutally forced off its own land. Now in exile, he leads one of the most peaceful nations on earth.
The other is a brave voice of truth. He’s taught the world what it means to be interdependent.
In April 2015, these two men came together. Archbishop Desmond Tutu and His Holiness the Dalai Lama spent a week together looking back on their long lives in an effort to answer one question: How do we find joy in a world filled with suffering? The result was The Book of Joy.
Through the challenges I faced; through my education, my Phi Theta Kappa experience, and all of you, I now know where joy can be found. I now understand how the Society thrives because of the Pillars of Joy.
Pillar 1: Perspective — There are Many Different Angles
The first pillar, perspective, is what the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu consider to be the foundation of joy and happiness. The way you see the world is the way you experience the world.
When I first got involved with PTK, friends and family threw negativity at me left and right. They said I was wasting my time and that none of this was worth it. Now, those of you that can relate know that the pushback you get from the people closest to you is the worst kind. But, depending on which part of the world you ask about my situation, you’d get completely different answers.
One perspective — that I had to become really familiar with — might say I should get married soon and spend my time learning how to do chores the correct way. Another might say I should use my potential to make a difference.
I won’t lie — sometimes, the prior perspective started to win. I questioned whether my hard work was really worth it and I started to see myself as they saw me — someone in a downward spiral. It took a long time for me to shake that insecurity off, and I couldn’t have done it without constant encouragement, support, and access to similar stories all throughout PTK.
Pillar 2: Humility — I Tried to Look Humble and Modest
The second pillar of humility comes with perspective. Once you have a wider perspective of the world, you find your place in it.
My encounters with other members this past year have proven this to me. Our officer team set a goal to increase chapter engagement. To do this, we reached out to chapters that had only one or two stars. Every chapter we met with was ready and willing to discuss what they needed help with, whether it was fundraising or member recruitment or submitting hallmarks.
We all know it isn’t easy to admit what you’re lacking, but that kind of humility was everywhere. It was the first thing that came to mind when I read what the Archbishop said about humility: that our vulnerabilities, our frailties, and our limitations are reminders that we need one another. We can’t do everything on our own; we need help. That’s so much of what Phi Theta Kappa is: a family, a support system.
We were so proud to be that support system to our chapters. And I’ll have you guys know that today, one of those chapters is not a Three or Four Star Chapter, but a full Five Star Chapter! Let’s give it up for Camden County College in New Jersey!
Pillar 3: Humor — Laughter, Joking is Much Better
Douglas Abrams helped write The Book of Joy, and he wrote that one of the most stunning aspects of his week with the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu was how much of it was spent laughing.
The third pillar, humor, is a way of seeing our common humanity — and also the ridiculousness in all of us. Nobody’s life is perfect; in fact, I bet every one of you can think of a reason not to laugh today, but you do it anyway.
A few weeks ago, I asked you to share your funniest PTK moments with me on Facebook, and I got so many responses. Briana posted about how her chapter in Texas went to their regional conference and accidentally walked into the wrong venue — they attended the first 15 minutes of someone’s wedding before they realized they were in the wrong place!
Victoria talked about how her Connecticut chapter’s Honors in Action meeting went from discussing topics to everyone singing the “Phineas and Ferb” theme song.
You blasted my Facebook post because you put aside all the formality and sense of self-importance to laugh at yourselves with each other. You used the kind of humor that the Archbishop says doesn’t belittle us; rather, it uplifts us.
Laughter is a key part of any Phi Theta Kappa gathering, this weekend included. As we continue to grow and learn and explore our differences, let’s remember to do so with a healthy dose of humor.
Pillar 4: Acceptance — The Only Place Where Change Can Begin
Here’s a thought that resonated with me from The Book of Joy: Once we are able to see life in a wider perspective; once we can see our role in life with a degree of humility; once we can laugh at ourselves; we gain the ability to accept our life in all its pain, imperfection, and beauty.
Acceptance of others, and acceptance of ourselves are both key to a happy and joyful life.
Acceptance is so deeply fused into Phi Theta Kappa’s roots that none of us would be here otherwise. With our membership acceptance, we accepted leadership responsibilities and the call to help our campuses and communities. And we accept each other, every single day.
I remember walking into the PTK office in my first semester of college.
Did I know what PTK was? Nope.
Did I know anybody there? Not at all.
Regardless, I asked my advisor for some sort of position, and she told me to apply to be a Regional Officer. Because she supported me during my regional candidacy, and then my international one, I am a completely different person. Before I met her, I would have probably run off stage before the lights came on.
Pillar 5: Forgiveness — Freeing Ourselves from the Past
Much has been said about the Society’s decision to offer membership to incarcerated students. It was no doubt a polarizing decision, but for the chapters that have embraced it, choosing forgiveness for these students has impacted them in countless ways. The Alpha Rho Lambda Chapter at Jackson College in Michigan even has convicted members serving as chapter officers!
Forgiveness is one of the pillars that has been talked the most about recently. But, forgiveness doesn’t have to be viewed at such a grand scale. Think about your own past and your own journeys and failures.
Maybe you weren’t a great student in high school, or your first shot at college didn’t go so well. Maybe you made some bad choices that set you down a road you never imagined.
Negative things happen to us all, but we’re here now. The decisions that led us here required us to forgive ourselves. You are being the change you want to see, and that makes second chances the best kind.
Pillar 6: Gratitude — I Am Fortunate to Be Alive
Embracing gratitude can literally change your perspective and attitude towards life.
When I was in Albania, there were no scholarships, no research internships, no student-based societies, nothing that supports any self-development. You have to swim upstream if you want to do something, even if it’s something that might benefit everybody.
So, I am so grateful, every single day, for the opportunities I have at my college and through Phi Theta Kappa, and I think you should be too. There are countless scholarships you can apply for. There is always a service project you can help with. So many people are just standing by, waiting to offer you advice and guidance for no other reason than to help you succeed.
In this community, doing more will always pay off, and that’s an opportunity for which you should always be grateful.
Pillar 7: Compassion — Something We Want to Become
What makes this system work so well is that, most of the time, when you go the extra mile, it makes someone else’s life easier. According to the Dalai Lama, a compassionate concern for others’ well-being is the source of happiness. Compassion is the emotion that connects all species.
Although compassion is wired into our brains, it is not worth nearly as much if we keep it to ourselves. We’ve all realized this over the past year, as several of our regions were subjected to fires, floods, hurricanes, and more. I think what I love most about our honor society is how we respond when disaster strikes.
After all, there’s a reason Service is one of our Hallmarks. We organize collection drives and start food pantries — in fact, as of last fall, PTK chapters had established 323 food pantries across the United States!
We even start scholarships for those in need. The Oberndorf Scholarship helps you overcome those unexpected barriers that pop up and threaten to derail your progress. The Golden Opportunity Scholarship makes ALL of this possible for someone who couldn’t otherwise afford it.
For some, compassion is about forgiving what they didn’t receive and still giving generously to someone else. For others, it’s about showing gratitude for what they got by paying it forward.
Regardless of your reasons for compassion, the result is the same, and it leads me to the final pillar.
Pillar 8: Generosity — We are Filled with Joy
The Archbishop and the Dalai Lama spoke about one of the core paradoxes of happiness: “Bringing joy to others is the fastest way to experience joy oneself.”
Give your time and your talents, your attention and your respect.
Give words of advice or encouragement.
Give money too, if that’s your thing, so you can give someone else the opportunities you have had.
You have a toolkit that is building your way to success, and you are doing an amazing job at using it. Soon you will all be achieving the goals that you worked hard for, and you will look back one day and pat yourself on the back. What the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu are asking of you is that you pass along your toolkit to those that don’t have one.
Through Phi Theta Kappa, you’ve developed a perspective wider than your own.
You’ve had to work with others and compromise with humility.
You’ve made things better by bringing humor into the picture.
You have been thankful for the opportunities you have received, and this has motivated you to work harder.
You have loved yourself enough to be that excellent student, and you love others enough to close your textbooks and do something for the world … to transform it in the way only you can.
Phi Theta Kappa, never stop pushing forward. Thank you for an amazing year.