Tau Kappa Epsilon Conclave 2015 in New Orleans

Tau Kappa EpsilonI traveled to New Orleans a couple weeks ago to cover the 2015 Tau Kappa Epsilon 2015 Conclave. In a nutshell, it’s the fraternity’s biannual national convention, where “Tekes,” as their called, handle business matters, fraternize, do community service, and yes, party. It was a glimpse behind the curtain of what fraternities are all about and how they operate, something I knew very little about.

Like, for starters, I had no idea fraternities have staff members. TKE has 32. These folks range from CEO and COO to chief risk officer and performance operations specialist. They even have web folks, who, among other things, have created a TKE app for phones and devices.

My only experience with fraternities is attending a few parties while in college (the first time around). Definitely not my thing, but lots of folks want that as part of their collegiate (and lifetime) experience. This assignment was with Atlanta Event Photography, owned by Jenni Girtman, and we were there to cover their event (for TKE) from start to finish at the New Orleans Marriott.

The attendees ranged in age from baby-faced freshmen to white-haired men in their 60s. Perhaps the most memorable (and captivating) part of the three-day event was the First Session of the Grand Chapter, where ritual and pomp were paramount. A secret handshake and passphrase were required to enter.

The top photo is from this ceremony, some of which I was not allowed to photograph. No women were allowed in this meeting. And to photograph certain portions of this event I was required to perform a ritual myself. In this photo, former Congressman Bob Barr concludes the session, following the induction of two new honorary members: U.S. bobsledder Johnny Quinn and “Naked and Afraid” television star E.J. “Skullcrusher” Snyder.

Oh yeah, Elvis was an honorary member, too. Who knew? The whole experience was fascinating. Here is what I saw at Conclave 2015.

Tau Kappa Epsilon

Attendees wait in line to register at the New Orleans Marriott.

Tau Kappa Epsilon

A member of the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity gives the secret handshake and passphrase to enter the First Session of the Grand Chapter.

Tau Kappa Epsilon

Fraternity members and their families parade through the French Quarter en route to a riverboat tour.

Tau Kappa Epsilon

Tau Kappa Epsilon

Former Congressman Bob Barr, serving as Grand Prytanis for TKE, rehearses for the First Session of the Grand Chapter.

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Tau Kappa Epsilon

Buckwheat Perry, directory of development for Tau Kappa Epsilon, who is considered a legend to many in the fraternity, walks with TKE “sweethearts” as they exit the grand ballroom.

Tau Kappa Epsilon

Tau Kappa Epsilon

Fraternity members, or “fraters,” do community service on dilapidated buildings in New Orleans.

Tau Kappa Epsilon

Chris Niles, alumni engagement director, leads a workshop on retaining alumni.

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