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By Jamison Webb

 

With Initiations into the Fraternity now open to non-students as well as to undergraduates, Sigma Chi redefines the traditional concept of the pledge, who is not longer just a fresh-faced college student.

Standing among the 14 pledges in Penn State's spring 2007 pledge class, Greg Kline '07, knew he looked out of place. At 35 years old, his undergraduate days at Penn State were long past, and, until recently, it seemed his chance at being a Sigma Chi like his father, Dave '64, was also gone.

"I didn't have the opportunity to [pledge Sigma Chi] when I was [a student] at Penn State," Kline said. "I was working full time, and taking classes on the side...but I was always interested in [being part of the Fraternity]."

So when a 2006 change in Fraternity policy paved the way for non-students such as Kline to become members, his father informed him of the opportunity. Kline had no reservations about accepting the invitation to become a Sigma Chi. "[My father] didn't even have to ask me twice," Kline says. "It was an honor."

After weeks of pledge training and a final test of Kline's Sigma Chi knowledge – steps that traditionally lead up to the Initiation of an undergraduate – Kline became a member of the Fraternity. On April 28, 2007, Kline entered the brotherhood as a member of Penn State's chapter and ushered in not only a new stage in his life, but he also helped to continue to welcome a new era of non-student Initiations to Sigma Chi. A change to the Fraternity's governing laws has made this possible. As of July 21, 2008, 26 non-students have been initiation into the Fraternity.

The change has its origins in the unique friendship between 63rd Grand Consul Lee Beauchamp (Texas A&M-College Station 1975) and Jonathon Clements, a young man with muscular dystrophy. Beauchamp had met Clements at a Muscular Dystrophy Association event, a friendship developed, and he wanted Clements to be part of Sigma Chi – although Clements, then 17, was not eligible for the traditional Initiation because he was not yet 18 and he was not a college student. Beauchamp presented the idea of initiating Clements to the Executive Committee (EC). After review, the EC initiated Clements into Sigma Chi at the January 2005 EC meeting in Houston.

64th Grand Consul Keith Krach (Purdue 1979) came from that meeting with the title of Clements' official Sigma Chi big brother, and he was left with the notion that Initiation should be opened to those who had not been a member of Sigma Chi or any other fraternity while in college.

"There are some great guys out there who never had a chance to become a Sigma Chi," Krach said. "I would've given my left arm for my dad to be a Sig."

In 2006, it was announced that pending a non-student's nomination by an undergraduate chapter to become a brother and upon approval of membership by the EC – using the same eligibility criteria that are applied to potential undergraduate members – a non-student could become a Sigma Chi. Krach says that initial fears that "hundreds of thousands" of potential non-student initiates would overwhelm the Fraternity have proven to be unfounded. He adds that both the nomination and the approval process have been very selective.

Long time coming

At age 59, Robert Saliba (Tennessee-Knoxville 2008) has been one of the oldest of the non-student initiates. Saliba originally pledged Sigma Chi as an undergraduate at Tennessee-Knoxville in the late 1960s but constraints kept him from becoming initiated into the Fraternity.

He remained close friends with those with whom he had pledged Sigma Chi, and he always regretted not having become a member. Then when Saliba's friends in the Fraternity came to him in late 2007 with the news that non-students could now be initiated into Sigma Chi, his initial disbelief soon gave way to determination: "I said [to my friends], 'If you can [get me initiated], it would mean the world to me."

On Jan. 19, 2008, Saliba was initiated into the Fraternity. He says that the ceremony was not about closure, but rather a new beginning. "I wanted to be a Sigma Chi in the fall of 1966, and it took me 40 years to do it," he says. "I feel a part of something that I've always wanted to feel a part of."

Added dimension

While Kline has enjoyed becoming a Sigma Chi, he says the benefits of non-student Initiations extend to the undergraduates as well, who can take advantage of a growing network of alumni – some who may have just been initiated into the Fraternity.

Krach calls non-student Initiations a "win-win situation" for everyone involved, and adds that current Sigs should take note of "men of higher character" in their families and communities who could be welcomed into the fold.

"We're always on the lookout for new Sigma Chis who will add another dimension to the Fraternity," he says.