By John Ensslin | December 30th, 2007
Sometimes a bit of tradition and ritual can go a long way toward binding a chapter together.
Take, for example, the SPJ Initiation Ceremony.
I’ll wager many SPJ members probably have never heard this ceremony performed.
I heard it for the first time during the 2006 Scripps Leadership retreat when Mark Scarp, an SPJ leader from Arizona, conducted a modified version of the ceremony.
Mark modified and shortened the ceremony, which traces its roots back to when SPJ was a college fraternity, Sigma Delta Chi.
At the time, I remember thinking to myself: “Jeez Mark, what next: Chants and robes? Paddles and goldfish? A secret SPJ handshake?”
But midway through the ceremony, an interesting thing happened. While the language of the ceremony is antique and florid, what starts out sounding corny suddenly turns eloquent and heartfelt.
This is especially apparent when the text (which I’ve attached to this post) is read out loud in a group that includes both new and long-time SPJ members.
Try it next time you have five or more new members to induct into your chapter and see if the same thing happens to them.
In Colorado, we included the initiation as the closing ceremony for a half-day training for young journalists. One of their teachers told me the students were as jazzed about the ceremony as any of the programs they heard that day.
Footnote on props: We improvised a bit by borrowing a “Scale of Justice” from the local bar association; a large round candle for the “Light of Truth” and white feather quills from an arts and crafts store for each of the readers to hold.
For now, though, we’ll skip the robes.
Here’s the script:
SPJ Initiation Ceremony
As arranged by Mark J. Scarp for 2004 Scripps Leadership Retreat
Note: The following is a compromise between the traditional long-form initiation ceremony handed down over the decades (which takes about 45 minutes) and the short-form ceremony that takes about 3 minutes. The following form is designed to take between 8-10 minutes.
Use as much of the paraphernalia suggested by the old long-form ceremony as you deem appropriate. One modern day variation involves large candles on an altar at the front of the room used to light individual candles handed to the candidates for membership beforehand.
Instructions: This ceremony minimally requires a presiding officer, known at the Editor, and a presenting officer, called a Guide. However, others may split up the narrative, each reading a portion. They have been indicated here in the ceremony text as Readers 1, 2 and 3.
(The ceremony begins with the Editor addressing the membership.)
EDITOR: We gather in special session to complete the admission to our Society of Candidates who are presented to us as qualified by their character and purpose to share in our endeavors. While the candidates are under examination and instruction, maintain the utmost attentiveness so that your presence may reflect for them the significance of the undertaking they assume.
(The membership immediate rise as the Guild and the Candidates enter. When all have taken their place, the membership is seated. The Guide then conducts the Candidates forward to where the Editor is waiting for them.)
GUIDE: I am authorized to present to the Editor of this Chapter these Candidates for membership and who have pledged themselves to an understanding of our purpose.
(The Guide then reads the names and titles of the Candidates.)
EDITOR: Please be seated. The Society of Professional Journalists was founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, and since then has grown steadily in prestige. Today, it is the acknowledged leader in the never-ending fight for freedom of information and for high professional ethics in the gathering and dissemination of that information.
Through the years, the Society has undergone much change, but it has never departed from the basic ideals upon which it was founded. As you become members of this Society, you fall heir to that rich heritage, one which strives to bring to journalism a dedication to service worthy of a great and honorable profession.
READER 1: The Society is dedicated to the perpetuation of a free press as the cornerstone of our nation and our liberty. To ensure the concept of self-government outlined in the U.S. Constitution remains a reality into future centuries, the American people must be well-informed in order to make decisions regarding their lives and their local and national communities. It is the role of journalists to provide this information in an accurate, comprehensive, timely and understandable manner.
READER 2: It is our mission to promote this flow of information and to encourage a climate in which journalism can be practiced freely and fully. We seek to stimulate high standards of ethical behavior among journalists and to inspire successive generations of talented individuals to become dedicated journalists. Finally, we are dedicated to maintaining constant vigilance in protection of the First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and of the press.
EDITOR: This is the Society of which you are now to become a part. I am prepared now to administer the oath of fidelity and allegiance. Are you prepared and willing to take the oath?
CANDIDATES: I am.
EDITOR: The Chapter will rise and remain standing while I administer the oath.
(The membership stands. A lighted candle from the front altar is used to light individual candles given to the members before the ceremony. Then the Editor addresses the Candidates.)
EDITOR: As a token of your sincerity, I ask you to raise your right hand and repeat after me so that all present may hear:
Having signified my desire
To become of member of this Society
I do hearby promise to uphold its ideals.
I pledge myself to do all in my power
To serve fellow journalists
Whether of the Society or not
And so endeavor to enrich the profession
With the ideals of the Society of Professional Journalists
This I promise and pledge myself to perform.
EDITOR: (Addressing the Chapter) Members, you have heard the oath. It is not without significance to us that you have sought and gained admittance to the Society. The sentences you have heard echo in the hearts of us all. We discover there refreshment of our own pledges. Please be seated.
GUIDE: (Addressing the Candidates) Our Society was founded as Sigma Delta Chi. Sigma stands for Sophia, meaning talent. Delta stands for Dynamis, meaning energy. Chi stands for Chiatos, which means truth. Talent is the gift. Energy, the means. Truth, the goal.
We welcome your association with those of us who seek to perpetuate a profession based on freedom to learn and report the facts.
READER 1: That believes in public enlightenment as the forerunner of justice.
READER 2: That is jealous of the right to utter unpopular opinions as the privilege to agree with the majority.
READER 3: That regards itself as the interpreter of today’s events and the mirror of tomorrow’s expectations.
GUIDE: That ascribes to itself motives only when motives go the heart of the issues.
EDITOR: And finally, that lays its own claim to a service on a vigilance that knows no midnight and a courage that knows no retreat.
READER 3: Democracy needs both a sentinel and a champion, and the weapon of the first is broad sympathy and of the second, a trenchant phrase. We urge you to assist in the realization of these purposes and these ideals. To this, and to all that has gone before, we rededicate ourselves with you. We trust that our heritage will inspire you to be an active and contributing member of the Society and you will assist us in the realization of our ideals.
EDITOR: The Chapter will rise. I ask all members present to renew their own efforts and rededicate themselves to the pledge. Members: Does the Society of Professional Journalists still have your service, your devotion and your aspiration?
MEMBERS: It has.
EDITOR: The ceremony is complete (here endeth the lesson.)