The True Gentleman

The True Gentleman is the man whose conduct proceeds from good will and an acute sense of propriety, and whose self-control is equal to all emergencies; who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity; who is himself humbled if necessity compels him to humble another; who does not flatter wealth, cringe before power, or boast of his own possessions or achievements; who speaks with frankness but always with sincerity and sympathy; whose deed follows his word; who thinks of the rights and feelings of others, rather than his own; and who appears well in any company, a man with whom honor is sacred and virtue safe.

- John Walter Wayland (Virginia 1899)

The History of The True Gentleman

John Walter Wayland

For more than half a century, pledges, actives, and alumni have recited "The True Gentleman," and no other words, save perhaps those of the Ritual of initiation, have more nearly represented the ideals of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. It may be that few members have ever been able to exemplify all the attributes set forth in the statement, but it does set forth the perfecting purpose of the fraternity.

Many years ago, Judge Walter B. Jones, Past Eminent Supreme Archon, came upon "The True Gentleman" and printed it in an Alabama Baptist Quarterly, which he edited. He sent a copy of the magazine to John O. Moseley, who was powerfully struck by the elegant words which accorded with his own philosophy of gentlemanliness. Moseley started using it in Leadership School in the 1930s, and it caught on quickly in chapters all across the land. Although Moseley never claimed authorship, many came to believe that he had composed "The True Gentleman." Because SAEs had no idea who the author was, The Phoenix indicated that the piece was simply "anonymous."

In the 1970s, Phoenix editor Dr. Joseph Walt discovered that "The True Gentleman" was also printed in a manual used at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis and that its author was John Walter Wayland. It turns out that many years ago, The Baltimore Sun conducted a competition for the best definition of a true gentleman. John Walter Wayland's submission was the winner. Thus, it was printed in the Baltimore newspaper and was repeated in many publications thereafter.

No matter who the author, "The True Gentleman" reflects a major part of the substance of the Ritual of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. Pledges memorize it and are asked to recite it. Awards are given to brothers who are thought best to exemplify it. Why do we regard it so highly, and what's in it for you as a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon?

Every organization is strengthened by tangible forms of a ritual. Athletic teams have mascots, churches have written rituals, commercial enterprises have slogans, and countless private organizations of individuals, who have chosen to belong for any variety of reasons, have statements of philosophy that define and express their beliefs. Not only does "The True Gentleman" remind each brother and pledge of his fraternity's code of behavior, it also serves that same function for non-members. And since it is something every member and pledge of Sigma Alpha Epsilon has in common, it helps bond us, providing part of the glue that holds us together. After all, gentlemanliness is the starting point and the indispensable quality of lasting friendships.

John Walter Wayland was initiated posthumously at the 67th Leadership School as a member of the University of Virginia (Virginia Omicron) Chapter.

adapted from Section IV of The Phoenix written by G. Robert Hamrdla, Past Eminent Supreme Recorder