My Rotaract Manifesto

I proclaimed in a recent post, “Ich bin ein Rotaractor.” Far from a mere historical reference, I do declare that I AM a Rotaractor. I am fifty-eight years old but feel that Rotaract—more than most Rotary Clubs I have experienced—offers more of what I want out of Rotary.

Some Rotarians will be up in arms when they read this. I have reviewed the Manual of Procedure, containing Rotary’s governing documents, and also examined the Rotaract Standard Club Constitution. As an attorney, I offer the following points of legal analysis:

There is nothing in any of the governing documents defining a Rotaractor as anything less than a Rotarian. We are co-equals.

Rotary Clubs can determine who are members of their clubs, but they do not control the membership of a sponsored Rotaract Club. The Standard Rotaract Club Constitution states, “The method of electing members of this club shall be determined by this club in consultation with the sponsoring Rotary club” (Art. IV, 2). That does not mean the Rotary Club gets to determine the method of membership; they merely get to offer their advice and consent. Once that method has been accepted, the Rotary Club cannot change it. All they can do is withdraw their sponsorship of the club.

There is nothing in the governing documents giving a Rotary Club any control over the operation of a Rotaract Club.

It is provided in the Standard Rotaract Club Constitution that “in the event that the sponsoring Rotary Club is terminated, the governor of the Rotary district will seek to install another sponsoring Rotary club” (Art. III, 4). In other words, the Rotaract Club is destined to survive, even if the sponsoring Rotary Club does not. Of course, a university-based Rotaract Club must comply with the rules and regulations of the host university (Art. IV, 2). That is only logical and expected when the club meets on campus as a quasi-university organization.

Rotary Clubs have a constitutional duty to support their sponsored Rotaract Club (Art III, 1).

This demonstrates the lack of subservience of the Rotaract Club. It places a duty upon the Rotary Club to support the Rotaract Club as best possible.

Nothing strictly prohibits a 58 year old from becoming a Rotaractor.

The Standard Rotaract Club Constitution states, “The membership of this club shall consist of young men and women of good character and leadership potential between the ages of 18 and 30 (Art. IV, 1). However, the Standard Rotaract Club Constitution is just that—a standard form document that each club can modify to suit its purposes. There are many Rotaract Clubs around the world with members over 30—some with members over 40. If the club wants to allow members of, oh, let’s say, 58 years of age, then I believe I would qualify as a Rotaractor. However, even if I don’t formally qualify, I still feel more comradry with the Rotaractors I met than with some Rotarians.

Here is another poignant provision of the Standard Rotaract Club Constitution, which a Rotary Club also signs when sponsoring a club:

“The basis of organization shall be young men and women who are committed to the goals of the Rotaract program and to building a relationship with the sponsoring Rotary club.” (Art. III, 2)

I highlight this language to show the quid pro quo of this relationship. In paragraph 1 of Article III, the sponsoring Rotary Club commits to “provide guidance and have supportive responsibility” for the Rotaract Club and, in paragraph 2 of Article III, the Rotaract Club commits to “building a relationship with the sponsoring Rotary Club.”

This is where a logical argument can be made for both sides. If the goal of Rotaract is “building a relationship with the sponsoring Rotary Club”, then Rotaractors must join in the activities of their sponsoring Rotary Club. That means, in essence, joining in to the rubrics and customs of that club, even if they are considered lame, embarrassing and not fun. That is typically the deductive reasoning of many staunch, older Rotarians who feel they should not have to change THEIR clubs to bring in younger members. Conversely, if the goal of the Rotary Club is to “provide guidance and supportive responsibility,” then what is the inductive argument a Rotary club must consider that will bring in these younger members?

I received a comment from a Rotarian in Irvine, California USA. He boasted his Rotary Club is, “a club that is informal, dynamic, rapidly growing (20+% increase this year), and fun (we don’t sing either). We’ve just won “Best Club” for the second year in a row. What you will also witness is a number of Rotaractors from the UCI Rotaract club who visit us each week; simply because they like hanging out with us.” This club appears to be the prototype all Rotary Clubs need to become.

There are three parts to this prototype club that apparently attract Rotaractors and other younger members. First, it is informal. I prefer a club where I can loosen my tie, have a beer, and relax. Second, it is fun. “Fun,” as we have learned, is a very subjective term. However, to attract those Rotaractors and younger members, your club must determine what the young people in your area consider to be fun and integrate that into your club’s program. That sort of fun does not need to overtake your club. However, if you want these younger members around, you must allow them to have their sort of fun with you. Clearly, the Irvine Club found that “magic formula.” The third part is actually what can be gleaned from the commentor’s statement that the club is “rapidly growing” and has been “Best Club” in their district for two years in a row. It is dynamic.

“Dynamic” is nearly as subjective as “fun.” However, there is a distinct difference. A dynamic club is impressive! If it is impressive, it gains attention. If it gains attention, then individuals want to be part of it and the membership grows. A dynamic club could be comprised of older members having fun in their own way and attracting their own age group to membership, yet not be attractive to younger members and Rotaractors. The mixture we must seek for long term growth is one that is attractive to younger members, particularly in those Rotary Clubs that sponsor a Rotaract Club or an Interact Club. The reason I separate those clubs from the rest is because they have committed in writing to create an environment of a sharing of ideas among generations.

In summary, I want to point out that we, as Rotarians, need to consider Rotaractors as our equals. They are not something less. They are not “kids.” They are not servants or “worker bees” of our Rotary Clubs. They deserve respect and the sooner we give them that, the sooner they will feel comfortable joining in our meetings. However, we, as Rotaractors, need to accept our local Rotary clubs for what they are. There is a quote attributed to many famous people. I first read it from Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, “Problems are often opportunities in disguise.” We Rotaractors can often look at our local Rotary Clubs in that way. If we do, then the “problems” inherent in the organization of those clubs become “opportunities” we must meet to assist them in adapting to the changing world and make them a better place for us to be. However, all is not lost if they won’t change. We can always form new Rotary clubs!

I hope you can see that my schizophrenia has some logic. I have been a Rotarian for nearly thirty-two years but have only been a Rotaractor for the past ten minutes! Although I have often been frustrated by the organization of Rotary and many of its clubs, I would not trade the experiences and friendships I have had for anything. There is a quote I have read often that goes, “The American justice system is the worst system in the entire world. However, it is better than all of the rest.” I submit you can substitute “Rotary” for “The American Justice System.”



The Last Day in Sydney

Although David and I attended part of the last day’s morning plenary session, we left somewhat early to spend time in the House of Friendship. The “House of Friendship” is Rotary’s trade show. There are hundreds of booths displaying projects, companies selling products, organizations disseminating information and even a wildlife display with a koala and a wallaby!

After lunch, I decided to forgo the rest of the day’s events to spend some time touring the city of Sydney. I have been in Australia for nearly a week, and have hardly left the convention venue, except in the evening when it is already too dark to see the sights. I took a train to Circular Quay (near the iconic Sydney Opera House), and then walked from there under the Sydney Harbor Bridge to Darling Harbor. Along the way I took pictures and just soaked in the ambience of this beautiful city. Although it was seventeen days before the start of their winter, the temperature hovered around seventy-two degrees Fahrenheit, with a cool sea breeze.

By the time I got to Darling Harbor, I felt I had earned a beer! So, I sat and drank a local beer and watched people stroll by. Although I detected some Rotarians in the mix, most of the people were either locals or tourists. From their appearances and their languages, I could tell just how international Sydney really is. I next walked through the restaurant and shopping district ending up at a wonderful sidewalk restaurant where I ate a kangaroo steak, paired with an Australian wine, while watching part of a light show — complete with fireworks — on the harbor. By that time, my son texted me and asked me to join him and his friends at a nearby restaurant where they were hanging out for one last time together. I was quite exhausted from my walking and was ready to get back to the hotel to pack and get ready to leave the next day. However, I walked to the restaurant and stopped in, just to see the group and say goodbye to those I knew. The above picture showed the group of around thirty who had gathered to celebrate their time together. Of course, after I left, David informed me about thirty or more additional friends showed up and they pretty well took over that restaurant for the rest of the evening.

The picture is, as they say, worth a thousand words… words I will not try to express here. What it shows is young people – most all under thirty years of age – from many countries celebrating together in their way. Of course, in various other venues around the city, I am sure older Rotarians were similarly celebrating together… in their way. Is one way better than the other? Of course not!

As I have observed various international Rotary functions in the past, they typically end, just as this convention did, with everyone joining hands and singing “Let There Be Peace On Earth.” Although the younger people at this restaurant did not join hands and sing (That, my friends, is clearly a generational thing!), they did sit together, listen to music, exchange emails, texts, pictures, Facebook and other social media information and show that peace can and will happen, if we just encourage them to pursue it in their own way.

I’ve already have a friend email me to comment on my blog posts from the convention saying, “You seem frustrated.” I must admit that I am. I do not have the “magic” to find a way to reconcile the generational differences that must be reconciled to allow Rotary to grow. Clearly, if that “magic” can be worked, Rotary will have two million members! However, what we are currently doing as Rotarians is not, for the most part, energizing Rotaractors and younger people to desire to join our clubs. That is, sadly, why there is Rotaract. Rotaract allows these young people to have Rotary their way. Of course, we consider them to be something less than Rotarians. Although Rotaractors profess to want to spend time with Rotarians, my observations have been that this time together has been more courteous than desirous. We, as an organization, do not seem to be able to offer them something that is fun and challenging. Although those intergenerational differences have existed for many generations, I now feel it has reached a critical point that is clearly impacting our organization — either positively or negatively – depending on what we do next.

Past RI President D.K. Lee’s annual theme in 2008-09 was “The Future of Rotary is in Your Hands.” A recent quote from RI President Ron Burton is “Rotaract is not the FUTURE of Rotary… it is the NOW of Rotary.” We need to reconcile those two thoughts and find a way to make our organization more attractive. I’d like to mash these thoughts into one for your consideration:

Although Rotaract is the NOW of Rotary, Rotaractors are the FUTURE Rotarians into whose hands we must deliver Rotary. We, as Rotarians, should strive to offer them a dynamic organization willing to bend and change to meet their wants and needs on their terms to advance Rotary’s mission of world understanding and peace.

Once we can impress this creed on our current Rotary Clubs and make it believable to Rotaractors and other young professionals, I believe we will see growth in our clubs. However, this cannot simply be a FUTURE goal, it must be effective NOW, throughout the world… or at least in those places where we want to see club growth.

Ich Bin Ein Rotaractor

In my last post, I complained about yesterday, Monday, June 2nd. It all stemmed from my continuing frustration with Rotary, youth and service. As I expected, the actual Rotary Convention has paled in comparison to the energy and ingenuity of the Rotaract PreConvention. However, today was redemptive and gives me much hope for the future of our organization. I did not attend the plenary session this morning. I wanted to, but felt the need to step away for a bit. Instead, I spent time in the House of Friendship viewing displays, gathering information, buying things and watching a baby wallaby eat. The House of Friendship is Rotary’s idea of a trade show. It is a gathering place for attendees with food, drink, entertainment, vendors and informational booths, but also is a great place to relax and share friendships. After I sat for a while (and Skyped with my wife), I was approached by two women Rotarians from New Zealand. One of them had fiery red hair and was anything but reserved. As it turned out, she was actively involved in RYLA, Rotaract and Interact – three of my areas of passion – in her district. We started talking about Rotaract ad RYLA and I shared some of my dreams for the Rotary youth programs and how they should feed each other. She smiled, reached out and shook my hand. She was excited to receive some affirmation of her similar ideas on these new generation programs. I then told her of my son’s breakout session that afternoon and she made notes of where and when, since she was so excited to hear some fresh ideas. Of course, I too was going to attend that session to watch David perform. However, I almost felt a need to warn him about this woman before she ambushed him!

After leaving the President-Elect’s luncheon early to get to David’s session, I walked in and was amazed to see the number of people already there. Although I intended to sit at the back out of the way, I was flagged down by my red-haired Kiwi (that’s what they call people from New Zealand) friend. She was seated at a front, center table, pen and paper in hand, ready to absorb information. By the time the session started, there were more than 100 people in attendance. David, who is 23, and a 29-year-old Rotaractor from Australia “tag-teamed” the session’s presentation. They gave their thoughts on several topics (often followed by an affirming “Woo Hoo!” from my Kiwi friend) and then allowed the audience to discuss the same topics at their respective tables before reporting to the entire group on their discussions. The points I took away from the meeting are items all Rotarians must digest: First, Rotaractors want respect from Rotarians. They are not “children.” They want to be treated as equals and, sadly, I know we are not all treating them that way. David’s co-presenter mentioned that, often, Rotarians look at Rotaractors as cheap labor or, as she called them “worker bees.” They call upon Rotaractors to be the “muscle” for their service projects. However, aside from that, they don’t include Rotaractors in their regular Rotary events or consider them equal participants in Rotary entitled to all the privileges of that participation. The comment I made at my table is that most Rotarians would consider a 24-year old Rotarian an equal in their club. However, they don’t give that same treatment to a 24-year old Rotaractor.

Between the program moderators and those Rotaractors, former Rotaractors and Rotarians who shared their ideas, I walked away with a different sense of understanding of Rotaractors. Even though my son is one and I have tried to champion their cause, I too have, essentially, considered them as something less than Rotarians and for that, I apologize. I too have some times considered them to be “kids,” not intellectually equal adults. I too have looked at them as a support arm for Rotary Clubs instead of an equal partner. It will take a lot for all Rotarians to have these same revelations because they were not there for this wonderful discussion and, even if they are talking with Rotaractors, they really aren’t listening to them.

I’ll discuss some of the other ideas discussed in this session later. However, the excitement of today was actually my own “epiphany” that Rotaractors deserve more respect. Although I have actively championed their cause, I did it from a standpoint of not fully understanding their side of this problem.

Many of you will remember President Kennedy’s famous statement made in a speech while standing at the Berlin Wall in 1963, “Ich bin ein Berliner” (I am a Berliner). Well, I want to paraphrase his remarks made in that speech:

All (Rotaractors), wherever they may live, are citizens of (Rotary), and, therefore, as a (young person at heart), I take pride in the words “Ich bin ein Rotaractor.”

Although the President’s words resounded around the world that day in 1963, it still took more than twenty-five years for the Berlin Wall to come down. Hopefully, it won’t take Rotary twenty-five years to give Rotaractors the respect they are clearly due.

The Day That Should Not Have Been

Most of you who know me know that I love Rotary. Sure, it has its quirks and its problems. I think it wants to evolve and it is trying. However, today’s Convention sessions revealed a few problems that are indicative of the larger problems Rotary must address.

I think our Convention has been well planned. I cannot imagine putting on one of these events and I want to thank those who did. However this morning, prior to start of the Second Plenary Session, the presider introduced three Interactors (high school age students) to help with the Aussie cheer. He (the presider) is not from Australia and has “botched” the cheer before. So, he invited the Interactors to lead that cheer. After putting a microphone in front of them and asking them to state their names and hometowns, he then announced they would lead the cheer. The “cheer” is just a fun little moment where the leader yells, “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!” and the crowd responds with “Oy! Oy! Oy!” Well, after again announcing that the Interactors would lead the cheer, just as they were to start, the presider pulled the microphone away from them, and led the cheer himself.  To me, this was somewhat of an analogy to Rotary’s problems with youth programs. We bring in youth, we cheer for them, and then we don’t give them anything relevant to do. I know that our Convention Chairman is a supporter of our youth programs. However, his actions were indicative of how most Rotary Clubs treat their youth program. Much like Rodney Dangerfield, they get no respect. We have to change that.

The second Rotary mishap of the day was dealt during a well-attended breakout session titled “Is it Fun?” The purpose of that session was to provide ideas for making club meetings more lively and fun. The presider was very animated and engaging. However, sadly, his ideas were not. Although I did take away some potentially useful suggestions,  the summary of this session was that EVERYONE likes to sing and you should let your “colorful” members (pictures were shown of some members wearing funny hats) have their time to spread “joy” and laughter throughout your club.  Probably the most telling fallacy of this session was when the presider asked everyone to stand. Around 700 people stood. Then, he asked everyone over age 40 to sit down. That left only about 30 – 40 people standing. I would venture to guess the presider was in his mid to late 60s. That is probably an age range of the majority of Rotarians. As a result, it made sense that his idea of fun involved singing and wearing funny hats. However, can you see prospective members in their 20s and 30s singing and wearing funny hats?

I recall as District Governor visiting a club where the president chastised me for suggesting clubs should not sing, adding “ALL of our members love to sing.” Yet, as the meeting started and their club sang, I looked around the room to see that younger club members were not singing, but instead were looking very uncomfortable having to listen to their club mates sing. It reminded me of a Boy Scout camp I attended in 1999. As our troop was entering onto the parade ground for the flag ceremony, the troop next to ours was standing there with the scouts all looking grumpy and sad. Their adult leader came to me and said, “Well, I’ll bet Troop 20 will sing with me.” As it turned out, this leader, probably in his 50s, was trying to get his boys (ages 13 – 15, mainly) to sing songs to wake up and be happy and they just balked and refused to do so.  As he looked to me for support and affirmation, I turned to him and said, “I’m sorry, we don’t make our boys sing.” 1999 was 15 years ago. Those 13 to 15 year old boys are now 28 to 30 and, potentially, are prospective Rotarians. I would bet money they still don’t want to sing as a group, whether it is in scouting or in Rotary.

I don’t want to chastise the breakout session leader for his enthusiasm for Rotary and for his idea that “fun” involves singing. I am sure there are many in his age group that would endorse that idea. However, that idea, as well as most of the others developed in that session are not what I consider to be fun. I am a person who definitely does not like those who just complain and don’t offer solutions. However, I am sure many of my ideas for “fun” might not be much more successful than his. So, what is the solution? I think each of us must ask that target audience in our community – whether they be young, old, female, or minorities – what it would take to get them to join our clubs. More importantly once we receive those responses, we must ACT on them. They are not lame. They are relevant. They are not stupid. They are defining of the future of our clubs. Some of the other “fun” ideas mentioned in the session were relevant. It was suggested that clubs have a colorful room, emblazoned with Rotary items. Clearly, that makes the room more inviting. I know many clubs have had a piano player playing music as members arrived. However, what is wrong with just having a music mix played through a laptop? It was suggested there be a slideshow of club projects, activities and other events showing during the meeting opening. However, why wait for the meeting? Why not upload it to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other social media? There should be a club photographer, a website and a Facebook page. However, if they are not updated and made a real-time part of a club meeting, they do not achieve their real purpose. These are all helpful in drawing prospective members to the club. However, unless there is true fun in the meeting, they won’t stay. Is there a “fix-all” solution that works? Sadly, no. But there are ways to find those solutions, if you are willing to ask.       

Faith and Fellowship

Sunday at the Convention was very calming. The Rotaract PreConvention was over. I know I will miss the energy generated there and I am fairly certain the Rotary Convention will be somewhat more subdued than the PreConvention.

Sunday was a day to recharge. I started the morning at the Aussie “Down Under” Breakfast. Excellent food and fellowship! I cannot express how warm and inviting the Australian people are. I then met up with David and we attended the Interfaith Service. As you know, Rotary is non-denominational and non-political. It is those precepts that have allowed Rotary to do so much around the world in places where religious or political groups are banned. However, I have always enjoyed the “religious” services Rotary provides at conventions and other international gatherings.  We heard short inspirational moments or readings from members of the Jewish, Hindu, Islamic, Buddhist and Christian faiths. We heard inspiring music from several of these faiths and, in general, meditated and/or prayed for peace throughout the world. All of these faiths, regardless of your acceptance or criticism of them, believe in one concept we can all embrace: Peace.

We then enjoyed the Opening Plenary Session. It was great to see so many Rotarians and guests celebrate together our meeting in Sydney. We were all appreciative of the Australian Prime Minister’s announcement of his country’s pledge of $100 million to Rotary’s polio eradication effort. It was great to see the flags of more than 180 nations paraded into the arena. I am sure for some in attendance, this really did make Rotary real, since we are a global force for good.

Sunday night was also our “Cowboy Cruise.” Our Rotary Zones – Zones 27 and 21b – train together in Rotary. We also vote together, selecting our Director for the Rotary International Board. So, it makes sense that we like to socialize together too. Even though we were on the Harbor in Sydney seeing some wonderful sights, most of us were content to stay inside on the boat catching up with old friends and making new ones over great food and drink.

I expect the rest of the Convention week will be more active than today. However, after having two full days of non-stop energetic fun, it was nice to relax and recharge. Conventions are designed to educate and inspire. However, I find more inspiration in the making of friendships and know that, even if we have differences of opinions, we can overcome them or look past them in the interest of maintaining and expanding those friendships. Right now, I have around forty-seven business cards from newly made friends from all around the world.    

Hope for the Future… and the Past

The PreConvention meeting ended Saturday. As Rotarians, we have so much hope for Rotaractors as our future… if we just stay out of their way! I enjoyed hearing Rotaractors talk about their hopes and dreams for Rotary. You see, they consider it to be their club too. I enjoyed them talking about their goals for service in their communities because they truly do believe they can change the world. I was beaming with pride – much like a father watching his children succeed – to hear their stories and feel their passion for Rotary.  What I learned, however, if that they, the Rotaractors, want to go about doing Rotary THEIR way. Sometimes, much like being that father, it is hard for us as Rotarians to watch them do things their way, because we know <lol> it is not as good as our way. Well, let me assure all of you naysayers that their way IS better! Why? Because allowing them to do things their way allows Rotary to move forward. We must let them make Rotary what is relevant to them. So, my charge to Rotarians who are involved in sponsoring Rotaract Clubs or in assisting them in any way is to be open minded and let these young people have Rotary their way. They want our support and encouragement, not our doubts. They want confirmation that what they are doing can make a difference and we owe it to them to give them that approval.

Although the PreConvention meeting was inspiring and all about the future of Rotary, let me end with my story of hope for what Rotary has been and continues to be. Last night, I participated in Rotary Restaurant Night. I was on my own since my son was still celebrating with the Rotaractors.  I had registered in advance for a particular restaurant and just figured that, as a single, they would sit me with a group and I could make a lot of new friends. As I was being escorted to my table, I saw that it was a small, two-person table off in a corner. Still, as a sat down, I thought to myself, “Oh well, at least I’ll make ONE new friend.” However, as I got comfortable in my seat, the hostess removed the plates and utensils from the other seat, leaving me to dine alone. That was depressing! I didn’t come on this event just to eat. I came to experience international Rotary friendship. As the waiter came by to take my order, it was then very apparent I was dining alone. I took out my phone and decided I could, at least, catch up on emails. However, in the back of my mind I was grumbling, “Rotary will hear about this! This is VERY poor planning.” A very cold feeling of sadness crept over me. This was not going to be a good night.

About that time, an Australian man came by my table and said, “Come over here. You’ll be dining with us.” He pointed to a long table of people who were looking my way and waving. They had cleared out a place at the end of their line of tables and were rearranging place settings to make room for me. The man, Gary, told me they had already talked to my server to let him know so they could bring me my food at their table. As I sat down, I had such a feeling of warmth, love, happiness, acceptance, and many other good emotions. I had been rescued from my onset of depression by some truly genuine fellow Rotarians. These new friends were all from the Rotary Club of Swan Valley in Western Australia. We quickly made friends, had our food, watched the fireworks, and shared a few beers. We joked with each other as if we had always been friends. We talked about our club projects. I was excited to hear that their club met at a winery. They asked about my club and I was able to tell them about our newly formed club and some of our ambitious education projects. Although my dinner came with one drink, I had a second beer because, although I expected this to be a short evening, time no longer matter. We were all having such a good time! However, as the final bill came and I pulled out my wallet to pay for my beer, I was threatened with eminent harm if I did not immediately put it away. I was not going to be allowed to pay for my drink. They had already done so. I then looked at my watch for the first time. We had started at 8:00 p.m., and it was now 10:30. Although I certainly did not get to talk with all of my tablemates, I sure enjoyed the fun and fellowship at our end.  

We then walked away from the restaurant. Since several of them were going in my same direction, they helped me navigate back to the train station. We departed as friends, but looked forward to meeting again at the convention.

I’ve often heard people say that Rotary is dying. It may be. However, it is clearly not dead. Fellowship, friendship and that spirit of service are still alive and well. This group from Western Australia just proved that to me.


Rotaract Preconvention Meeting – Day One

The first full day in Sydney! The weather is amazing. Highs in the mid-60s. The city appears almost tropical with palm trees and seagulls. An engineer from San Diego who rode with us from the airport noted that Sydney is the same latitude SOUTH that San Diego is NORTH. Hence, a very similar climate. From our hotel, we can gaze across the street at the convention site. Can’t be much closer!
After a great night’s sleep, we awoke to start the day at the Rotaract PreConvention meeting. David left much earlier for it, since he was part of the program. My goal was to say out of his way and just watch. However, when you are around these energetic young people, you just get drawn in. David was seated on stage with a young Rotarian and they had a smart phone on a long pole. As the meeting started, they did a “parade of nations.” That, at least, is what us older folks would do. That’s where you parade each country’s flag across the stage and people clap. Of course, that was MUCH too lame for these young people! In keeping with the social custom of the time, David and this young Rotarian ran around the room, announcing each country’s presence, and then getting with the group of Rotaractors from that country and taking a “selfie.” Many of the countries had their flag or club banners in their picture. It was tremendous fun and just a blast to watch. When they couldn’t find a representative from that particular country, David and his Rotarian friend would just take a picture of themselves. Of course, I enjoyed watching David making different faces for each picture and “photobombing” each country’s picture. When I said you just get drawn in, I meant that I found myself running to the group of American Rotaractors gathering for our group “selfie.” What a great way to start a meeting!
After a few keynote addresses, including one by David (cue the “proud father” dance music), the group split into breakout sessions to discuss various topics relevant to Rotaractors. These were fast and lively. They broke for lunch and it was amazing to see Rotaractors of different countries, most of whom had never met before, leaving to continue the fellowship and discussions over burgers or sushi. They then returned for more breakout sessions before coming together for a last large group session. That last session was most unique. On screens projected on both sides of the stage were the live streaming tweets of attendees about their experiences at the meeting. So, in keeping with the multi-tasking style of young people, they listened to speakers while processing the live stream of comments and ideas.
I learned a lot. Mostly I learned that Rotary can be in good hands with these young people if we, as Rotarians, just let them go. We can’t try and conform them to our vision of Rotary. They need to make Rotary what is relevant to them. So let’s not blind their vision of Rotary. The program moderator used a Ron Burton quote that best served as a call to action to the Rotaractors and an admonition to Rotarians unwilling to change:
“Rotaract is not the FUTURE of Rotary. It is the NOW of Rotary.”