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The One Percent

by on February 6, 2013

There is a certain reality in being a member of The One Percent that those who are outside The One Percent cannot know, but in this case, most definitely should.  In politics the creation of an us/them dichotomy is advantageous for whoever can wield more political power in demonizing the ‘other’ group.   I’m sure that it’s creation of the same dichotomy in a very different setting is meant to be much more benign. National Residence Hall Honorary (NRHH), an affiliate of NACURH, creates a dichotomy between the “top 1% of student leaders living on [college] campuses” and all those who are not part of The One Percent.  I am an alumnus of NRHH (which is to say that I’m part of the 1%), and, by virtue of having once been a chosen member of NRHH, I will always be an alumnus.

I was involved in what is euphemistically called “leadership” at college, and for a lack of better word, “leadership” it was.  Who did we lead?  That’s a challenging question, because we leaders – most of us at one point became a member of the NRHH 1% –  seemed to have no followers.  It  appeared to me that we mostly led each other, and, being members of The One Percent, were naturally reluctant to be led.  Nonetheless, there was actual leadership and inspiration involved, leading people to make tough life choices choice for themselves, and even more difficult decisions about the lives of others.

I had the privilege, which not everyone can afford, to volunteer for four years in the  Residential Community at my public university.  In the second year I was president of the organization that represents the residential students.  I say that there is actual leadership and inspiration involved, and a considerable portion of that is developed by NACURH conferences (the National Association of College and University Residence Halls).  The president’s ability to preside ends at conferences, where the National Communications Coordinator (my job for the third and fourth years) represents their school in legislation, energy, and exchange of ideas.  There are several hundred schools with residential communities, and Canadian and Australian schools join Americans for a yearly conference.  There are eight regions, each with a yearly conference; these regional and national conferences are so full of life and energy that it is necessary to have a third conference — appropriately called no-frills, since there is no school spirit involved — which is dedicated to legislation and decisions.

Among the many challenges we face in life, few are as difficult as making decisions about other people’s future.  For at least six of the ten conferences I attended I was in charge of deciding which applications to accept, and which to reject.  Most of the applicants were freshmen or otherwise new to me, and I’d met them each briefly as they attended a meeting or two to hear about the excitement of conferences and as they handed me their application.  I didn’t know them, and my job was to judge their future based on an application.  Many of those who attended a conference (or, consequently, many conferences) went into the field of Residential Life, while many of those who had applied with as much enthusiasm never again committed themselves to “leadership” with the same energy they might have had.  There are responsibilities The One Percent must shoulder that are not pleasant.

To say that being a leader at, and attending, a conference is exciting and fun is a vast understatement.  It is a gathering of the 1% (and those who might make it into the 1%) and there is a joie de vivre that is unrivaled in any other experience.  In politics and sports there may but a great energy, but the opposition has the same energy rooting for the opposite outcome.  Not so in a gathering of the 1% of leaders.  There are always petty squabbles, disagreements, and personality differences, but there is an energy that descends when more than two thousand (or, even at the regional level with a mere several hundred) very energetic young people gather with a purpose of showing, rather than hiding, their energy.  A conference of this sort is one of the few times I looked around and was interested in meeting every person — all two thousand of them — at the conference.  I regret to say I failed.

Besides the short-term excitement of the conferences there is a long-term benefit for people who attend.  As I’ve mentioned, it has an influence on the career choices of more than a few people.  These leaders, these people who are mostly in The One Percent of their respective communities, will also be your future teachers, bankers, academics, lawyers, and general leaders of society.  What the conference teaches, implicitly and explicitly, is more than an fun-filled, spirited, weekend.  I would hesitate to comment on the political make-up of the two thousand or so attendants, except to say that they represent every part of the country and every view to be expected.  But those who attend are more socially liberal than the rest of the country.  These are twenty-year olds from academic communities, meeting with a diverse group of people.  There is at least one likelihood: the people who attend the conferences, and who can say they are part of NRHH’s 1%, have the time – and, more importantly, the money or economic support – to be able to attend.  These are students who can volunteer their way through college.  The conferences show respect for diversity, an appreciation for ideas from all parts of the country, and a dedication to social justice that would do the rest of the country well to emulate.

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