The deke mystique

Remember when you toured Wheaton? The students who give those tours are referred to as Diakonoi, dekes for short. They are a vital part of the initial Wheaton experience, but few Wheaton students actually know much about them. The Diakonoi program is run by the Undergraduate Admissions office and is supervised by Bethany Pennington ’13, an admissions counselor, former deke and deke coordinator. “The program is part of a longstanding tradition of service ministry to prospective students and families as they consider college options and has been in effect since 1976,” Pennington said. President Ryken was a deke, as were many other staff and current students on campus.

“The Diakonoi program is an integral part of the Undergraduate Admissions office,” Pennington said. “Because the college visit is often a key deciding factor for prospective students, dekes give guests a first-hand experience of the college, whether through a tour, overnight stay or simply by welcoming visitors during Wheaton Connections.” The Diakonoi program also focuses on sharing life together while serving, so dekes gather regularly for community-building events and discipleship. Being a deke is also intended to help students grow in professionalism by training them for public speaking and hospitality. “The Diakonoi program at heart is a ministry,” Pennington said. “It provides six sophomore men and six sophomore women with the opportunity to practice hospitality towards our guests and share life together as we grow in community. As we minister to visitors by sharing our stories, inviting them into our space and serving as a bridge from high school to the college, we ultimately are sharing the graciousness of God and the evidence of his work in our lives as students at Wheaton.”

The deke application process begins in the spring after the informational meeting. “The written application includes a faculty letter of recommendation, an RA evaluation and a personal essay with various questions about Wheaton and the applicant,” junior Daniel Tannous said. “The next step is the interviews. We look for people who want to serve Wheaton College and prospective students, want to share their story and do so well, and those who want to invest in the deke community. Twenty-four applicants are chosen to come in for individual interviews and from those, 12 Dekes are chosen for the upcoming year,” Tannous said. Six sophomores from Fischer and six from Smith-Traber are chosen. The 12-person deke team is led by two junior students who have completed the deke program and an advisor who is also an admissions counselor.

Dekes kick off the year at the student development week at HoneyRock. This is followed by a week of training on campus. Year round, individual dekes give campus tours once a week, in addition to special tours for connection and homecoming. The tours are usually 75 minutes long and they travel from Blanchard Lawn to Blanchard Hall by Jonathan and Charles. Then the tour heads to the Alumni Missions Wall, outside Blanchard near the MSC, Adams and the Conservatory. Next, they visit Edman Chapel, Buswell Library, the Quad, the SRC and the residence halls — either Fischer or Smith-Traber. The tours end with the Meyers Science Center, Lower Beamer and Anderson Commons.

Along with tours, Dekes are expected to host prospective students overnight in the dorms, help run Wheaton Connections, meet weekly with a prayer partner and small group and become involved in campus activities in order to better understand diverse aspects of Wheaton College. Dekes do not receive any monetary compensation, as Diakonoi is a volunteer position; however, they do receive deke jackets, two retreats, group outings and banquets.

The Record interviewed several students, both present and past dekes, to get the insider scoop on the deke life.

Are there things on campus you’ve noticed prospective students and parents react negatively to?

“I always laugh when I lead a tour into Buswell, because a lot of students and parents will get really confused and start to worry that we don’t have any books in our library. … So I always have to begin that tour stop with a disclaimer about the books not being on the main floor.”— sophomore Joshua Recknagel

“Probably the smell coming from Traber. … But actually the lack of a full on-campus engineering program.” — sophomore Colin McLaughlin

“Parents — and prospective students — are curious about Wheaton’s stance on various “hot button” issues of the day, ranging from evolution to homosexuality to diversity and beyond. It is always a challenge to represent those issues and Wheaton’s stance on them well because they are so complex.” — junior  Emily Willson

“Without question, tours in the dead of winter. Everyone always asks me, ‘So is it this cold all the time?’” — junior James Barret

Why did you want to be a deke?

“My visit to Wheaton, my enjoyment of my freshman year and my desire to serve a place that had given me so much motivated my application to the deke program. Even midway through freshman year I was already grateful for the many opportunities and privileges that accompanied my time at Wheaton, and I wanted a way to share those experiences with others.”— junior Emily Willson

“I wanted to share my love of Wheaton with prospective students. I saw the lasting friendships made through Diakonoi and pretty much all of them raved about how good the community was. All that plus a couple of days up at HoneyRock sounded pretty good to me.” — sophomore Colin McLaughlin

What was/is your favorite place to show the tours?

“The stop in Lower Beamer is my favorite to give on the tour because I get to tell people about the story of Todd Beamer and how he was not only a Wheaton grad but more importantly an American hero. It gives me goose-bumps every time.” — sophomore Clarke Doig

“The Missions Wall on the second floor of Blanchard is probably my favorite tour stop. I don’t go by it much if I’m not giving a tour, but every time I lead a group by there, it’s such a great reminder of Wheaton’s legacy.  It’s inspiring, really, that Wheaton students have taken the ‘For Christ and his Kingdom’ motto so seriously, and not just in cross-cultural missions.” —sophomore Joshua Recknagel

“My favorite place on campus to show off is the science building! I spend a lot of time in that place, and I love its architectural beauty; it is full of natural light and is constructed to be from the earth — geology in the basement  to the heavens — the telescope on the roof,  along with the many research spaces and classrooms in which I have learned much.” — junior  Emily Willson

What is the most enjoyable part of being a deke?

“From the visitors to whom you give tours to the prospective students you host to the fellow dekes with whom you have the privilege of doing life, my year as a deke was sprinkled with wonderful times with delightful people.” — junior Emily Willson

“The wonderful community and great memories that come from our many escapades!” — junior James Barret

“Connection! It’s so much fun to share stories with so many people in succession.  Tours are big, lots of people have questions and basically we get to talk about Wheaton and our experiences for around six hours at a time.” — sophomore Joshua Recknagel

What is the hardest part about being a deke?

“Connection nights or weekends. It wears me out to be fielding questions and running around all afternoon and evening, so I’ll reach the end of the night and just collapse onto the couch.  It’s absolutely exhausting, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.” —sophomore Joshua Recknagel

“The pressure of hosting a prospective student was huge because I really wanted them to love Wheaton as much as I do.” —junior James Barret

“Making time for one another! It’s easy to over-commit at Wheaton, and making time for one another amid busy schedules can be a little disheartening, especially when it doesn’t seem to happen. But it has also forced us to be really intentional with one another. If we want to see each other outside of “deke stuff,” we are responsible for seeking one another out. It can be hard, but it’s worth it, and it’s forced me to learn to reach out and let others know when I need their friendship and presence in my life.” — sophomore Madison MacMath

To those thinking about becoming a deke, you’d say…

“Talk to us and pray about it! It’s a serious commitment, but it’s a blast if it fits you well. Obviously, come to the information session, but I’d also recommend that you talk to us about it!” —sophomore Joshua Recknagel

“It doesn’t look like a huge commitment on paper when you are applying, but it is. It can simultaneously be one of the most growing experiences and the biggest blessings if your heart is in the right place. ”— sophomore Madison MacMath

“Apply. This experience has been one of the most formative elements of my time at Wheaton, and I have loved every second of it. You will learn, grow, change, serve, relate, love, fail, succeed, pray, laugh — a lot — and do so many other things while you are a deke.” — junior Emily Willson

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