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Having had the opportunity to listen to NCHC presidential addresses since 1995, I find today’s opportunity a humbling one. Some of our presidents have used the conference themes as points of reference, but our first four conferences starting in 1966 had no themes. Ada Long and I share the experience of having chaired our NCHC conferences in San Antonio: she in 1994 with the theme “Crossing Borders” and I in 2008 with “Crossing Frontiers.” Theme or no theme, some presidents have grappled with defining honors or, even more challenging, the NCHC.
Intuitively, we know what honors is, yet we have difficulty in explaining it to others and sometimes even to ourselves. Listen to the hallway conversations! However, our work in NCHC has given us frameworks within which to analyze honors. Frames of references should help us understand where we are and also where we should be going. That understanding should lead us to action. First, we need to understand the background of these frames, and then we need to question whether they work for us, knowing that we may need multiple or oddly shaped frames.
I am tempted to give once again the history of honors in our nation, followed by the history of the NCHC, but others have done so and done it well. So I will take us back only a decade to when we were on the brink of insolvency. I recall many earnest voices, but I hear one voice especially, that of Gary Bell, calming, reasoning, convincing, and reassuring. Our membership agreed to a painful dues increase.
Even then in those times of doom and gloom, NCHC leadership understood the acute necessity of permanent headquarters and an executive director. Plans for restructuring the NCHC with a professional executive director began in 1995; in June 2002, Past President Rosalie Otero wrote: “A permanent office could serve and expand the membership, guide public relations and publicity, coordinate programs and institutes, and, in general, provide a host of important services to the members, individuals, and institutions of NCHC” (45).