A Part of Something Bigger

Brother Ali Soufan Receives Phi Kappa Theta’s 2018 John F. Kennedy Award

by Matthew R. Miller
University of Nebraska, ‘12

 Brother Ali Soufan (Mansfield University, ‘94) during a Q&A at IMPACT18 in Orlando, FL ).

Brother Ali Soufan (Mansfield University, ‘94) during a Q&A at IMPACT18 in Orlando, FL ).

Ali Soufan (Mansfield University, ‘94) applied to the FBI on a dare.

“When I joined the Bureau I didn’t think in a million years I’d be an FBI agent,” he said. “Literally it was a bet with fraternity brothers. Most of the guys in my fraternity were in law enforcement and ROTC. It was a joke to see if I would last in the application process. Actually I bet against myself.”

But Soufan did last. Over the next decade he was involved in a number of high-profile anti-terrorism cases around the world and has been described as the person who came closest to preventing the attacks of September 11, 2001. He has published two books, Anatomy of Terror: From the Death of Bin Laden to the Rise of the Islamic State and The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda. A recent Hulu miniseries, The Looming Tower, is based on his time in the FBI. Soufan is now CEO of The Soufan Group and founder of The Soufan Center – a “nonprofit organization dedicated to serving as a resource and forum for research, analysis, and strategic dialogue related to global security issues and emergent threats.”

Mr. Soufan is also the most recent recipient of Phi Kappa Theta’s John F. Kennedy Award – given to brothers who have thrived in their professional careers and who inspire others to live lives of service of others, improving the world around them.

In his acceptance speech Soufan noted John F. Kennedy once said leadership and learning are indispensable to each other. Soufan explained leadership isn’t about words and lectures but about action and attitude. Those actions and attitudes are themselves shaped by our experiences and our values – which is why his time in Phi Kappa Theta was so valuable.

“When I joined Phi Kaps, like I think most of you, I joined for the fun, for the parties, but then I realized it was way more than that,” he said. “It meant something to me to be something bigger than I am, and I’m very honored for that and will always be honored to be a brother of Phi Kappa Theta.”

The values he first felt full force in college – loyalty, trust, sacrifice friendship were things he said were vital to his work in counter-terrorism and the FBI.

“Many of my colleagues who were with me in places like Yemen and Afghanistan, the streets of the Middle East or north Africa, a lot of these guys we developed our own kind of brotherhood but it’s all based on my experience that I had before in college.”

Soufan believes many people today still see that stereotypical fraternity life of parties and mindless fun, but a deeper, honest look reveals the values Phi Kappa Theta possesses, values that can and will stay with a person forever if they take them seriously.

That’s a theme Soufan keeps returning to – the time a young man spends in college does not exist in isolation from the rest of his life. Phi Kappa Theta was so important for Soufan and can be for others because it’s a framework during a foundational time. The choices made, values acquired, the people one allows themselves to be shaped by, are all building towards a future life.

“The values of loyalty, friendship, courage, fortitude, love, faith - these things nobody can take away from you,” he said. “These things won’t stop the moment you graduate and you leave for real life. These values will continue with you. They continued with me through my professional life… These values are the true test of brotherhood and these values are the true test of leadership and these things will continue with us forever.”

Soufan said Phi Kappa Theta made his college experience far richer than it otherwise would have been. He was shaped, and continues to be shaped, by his college and especially his fraternal experience. It’s taken him where he is today and has given him the foundation to persevere when he needed to the most.

“If you have the brotherhood and the loyalty and sacrifice and you put them with these other values, I think you’ll be on a very strong personal and moral ground to fight and stand up against any difficulties in life,” he said.

Main Image: The 2018 John F. Kennedy Award recipient, Brother Ali Soufan (Mansfield University, ‘94), speaking with brothers at IMPACT18 in Orlando, FL this past August.

Watch Brother Soufan’s speech from IMPACT18 in Orlando, FL: