From the beginning in 1911, when six students founded the Friar Society, the intent of the organization has been to honor and offer membership to students who have made significant contributions to the betterment of the university, said Omar Ochoa, a School of Law student who is abbot of the organization and editor-in-chief of the Texas Law Review.
“The Friar Society is made up of student leaders from all over campus and from all walks of life,” Ochoa said. “These students have devoted their time to improving the lives of others and especially improving The University of Texas at Austin. The many accomplishments of our alumni show that Friar Society members continue to be active servants throughout their lives.
“Whether tangible or intangible, one act or many, the contributions recognized by the Friars are marked by individual innovation and unusual accomplishment, either in campus activities, the arts, academic scholarship or any other area related to the university.”
Ochoa said that while members of the Friar Society through the years have been among the most active and visible students on campus, the organization itself historically has maintained a low profile in a tradition similar to that of its namesakes, the friars.
But after 100 years of near silence about its activities benefiting the university community, the Friar Society sees the centennial anniversary as an opportunity to publicly express its gratitude to the former students, now alumni, who have continued their tradition of service after they were graduated from the university.
The Friar Society began as an all-male organization, but in 1973 inducted six women into its ranks and became the first all-male campus organization to do so. The organizations student membership this year includes 13 men and six women. Some of about 725 living alumni of the organization have become governors, ambassadors, university chancellors, faculty members and presidents, regents, lawyers, doctors, journalists, architects, entrepreneurs, authors, social advocates, teachers, artists, members of congress, judges, mayors and state legislators.
One of those alums, CNN correspondent Paul Begala, will be the guest speaker at a lecture on campus in mid-April celebrating the centennial of the Friar Society. The lecture at 4 p.m. on April 15 on “The Role of the Media in American Politics” is free and open to the university community. Seating for the lecture in the Connally Ballroom of the Etter-Harbin Alumni Center is limited. Reservations may be requested by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ochoa said the key to becoming a member of the Friar Society is doing something to make a positive difference in the university community. Undergraduate and graduate students are invited to apply for membership into the organization, which accepts applications each fall and spring semester. Over the years, individuals who at the time were or later became Friars have had a hand in more than 600 campus projects ranging from the founding of key campus organizations such as the Texas Cowboys and the Neighborhood Longhorns service organizations to the construction of Memorial Stadium, the Student Services Building, the Texas Union and the Student Activity Center. They also contributed toward the advancement of important causes such as campus accessibility and the development and promotion of the university’s Honor Code.
Friars also recognize excellence outside of the organization with awards such as the Friar Centennial Teaching Fellowship, an undergraduate teaching award that includes a gift of $25,000 presented to a faculty member in a surprise ceremony while he or she is teaching class.
The Friars also created and annually present the Tany Norwood Award, a plaque recognizing outstanding contributions to student life made by a staff member or an administrator. The Friar Society is among the organizations that played a role in initiating the Student Endowed Centennial Lectureship, the Heman Sweatt Civil Rights Symposium and the Edward S. Guleke Student Excellence Award.