The Most Important Thing I Learned in College

Jason Didner as a sophomore at State University of New York, Stony brook with his council mates for the Sigma Alpha Mu (SAM) fraternity in 1989

That’s me on the left, with fraternity couclimates Rob Gordon, Steve Cash and Dennis Kastanis. I know, the hair, right??

In my college years, there was all kinds of learning: learning to manage my life on my own, academic learning, and social learning. Then there was this one lesson that stood above every lecture, paper, exam or personal experience. It was that together we can be a force for good way beyond what one person can do alone.

Late in my freshman year at Stony Brook University, a fraternity fell into my lap. We were to be founding fathers of a new chapter of a national Fraternity, Sigma Alpha Mu (SAM). I said yes, I’d give it a try.

The Fraternity didn’t turn me into a “frat boy.” I didn’t suddenly become a football hero and I didn’t get the desire to pull pranks on kids too shy to stand up for themselves. The experience of being in this fraternity at this time did something much more profound that still motivates me. It showed me the importance of giving back to the community through philanthropy, even when you’re a college kid on a low budget. And it taught me you could show people a great time while they’re participating in charitable actions.

One of my favorite charitable event we did was the “Singing tuck-ins” where those of us in the fraternity who were musicians (most of my band with its various lineups had joined) would be requested to knock on a co-ed’s door and tuck her into bed while performing a Bon Jovi or Guns n Roses power ballad acoustically. The money raised would go to a local charity. I didn’t have lots of my own money to donate, but I had a skill that was worth money to enough people that together – my fraternity brothers and our ‘customers’ – we made a difference.

A more outlandish example of what we could accomplish together was our “lunar beach party” in a dorm suite. On a winter night about 20 of us went out to the beach and each scooped up a garbage bag worth of sand and brought it back to the suite. We laid the sand on the floor and put up a volleyball net. We stuck a glowing moon and stars to the ceiling. So we had a real indoor beach party on a winter night. This was the kind of crazy thing you could only do in a group of people committed to the same rewarding result. I don’t think the idea would have even occurred to me alone, but together because of someone’s zany, brilliant idea, we made a lasting memory.

Today, some things have stayed strikingly the same. I still love to help people with my talents, but can’t take out the checkbook and quietly write a big check like Bruce Springsteen or Jon Bon Jovi can. If I want to make a real contribution, I rely on the help of people like you participating with me. This is why I decided to start #SummerOfSharing with the release of my Lollipop Motel album.

This is why I felt compelled to help Xavier, a 5-year-old Philadelphia boy who has been in and out of the hospital all his life for the heart condition he was born with. He’s been through multiple surgeries and a cardiac arrest that stole his developmental gains from walking to speech. I pledged 50% of album download proceeds in the month of June to Xavier’s family and now today’s the last day of the June campaign to help Xavier.

Will you help Xavier today by downloading my critically acclaimed family-friendly album Lollipop Motel for $9.95? 50% of proceeds go to his family.

The most important thing I learned in college is that together we can make a real difference in the lives of real people who need it – in ways we can’t do alone. And I still want to do this with you – maybe even more now than I did back then.

What’s the most important thing you learned in your school days or young adulthood right after school? Please comment below – and chip in to help Xavier!



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