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A whopping 1,953 Masons and their ladies gathered in Milwaukee for the 2019 Annual Session. We laughed, we cried, and we celebrated 211 candidates who received the 33°.

We thought it would be fun to present the experience of the Scottish Rite Annual Meeting from the perspective of a member of the staff, and a relatively new staff member at that. Our guest blog by Joann Williams-Hoxha, Digital Marketing Specialist, gives us a fresh glimpse into how soaring and special the Annual Meeting truly is.

From August 24-27, Milwaukee was the place to be! The Scottish Rite NMJ was a glorious celebration of our Brothers who received the 33° degree replete with distinguished guests from across the globe. The celebratory sights paired perfectly with the arious tastes of Milwaukee, which included lots of cheese, brats, and hometown brews.

Being just 3 months into my role here at Supreme Council, this was my very first Annual Meeting, and I was so pleased to have had the opportunity to personally congratulate the candidates and meet with so many Active Members, Distinguished Guests, and staff I don’t get the opportunity to interact with regularly in the office.

Here’s a recap of the week-long celebration, with a few of my personal observations peppered in along the way:

Thursday: Dining among Dinosaurs and Dioramas

On August 22, Active Members and Active Emeriti gathered with Supreme Council staff for a dinner and at the Milwaukee Public Museum, where guests had full reign of the museum’s first floor. The first of several dinners throughout the week, I couldn’t help but wonder how an evening dining within dioramas of European Villages and the streets of Milwaukee in the 1900s could be topped.

My little ones at home were particularly excited to see a text from Mom in front of this guy:

Enjoying the sights at the Milwaukee Public Museum

Enjoying the sights at the Milwaukee Public Museum

Friday: Business during the Day, Grand Dinner in Evening

Friday morning began with getting Actives, Active Emeritus Members, and Distinguished Guests checked in at the Hilton with their appropriate badges and paperwork, and concluded with dinner onsite, where honorary guests were entertained with a sampling of show tunes, from “Les Miserables” to “Showboat.”

Grand Soloist Raymond Foose

Grand Soloist Raymond Foose, 33°, entertains guests at the Commander's Dinner

Saturday: Business Continues, Followed by a Taste of Milwaukee

The check in process continued the same as the day prior, with much more hustle and bustle throughout the registration area and in the Masonic Marketplace that opened with a wide array of vendor options and a place for our members to meet, gather, and socialize.

Masonic Marketplace

A bustling Masonic Marketplace

Sunday: Candidates Arrive, Celebration Continues

If you were among the candidates who received the 33°, odds are that I met you to set up an individual photo with my colleague John Brian McNaughton. With my marketer’s hat still on in Milwaukee, it was truly the best on-the-job training to speak directly with so many great Masons in an effort to seek out ways we can build upon our messaging and spread the word about Scottish Rite.

Following a powerful Vesper service filled with incredible faith and philanthropy, a special candidate dinner and celebration took place later in the evening. The candidate photos we took earlier in the day? We used them to highlight our brethren on the big screen during dinner.

The evening concluded with dancing and merriment, with a band that played a great selection of hits from yesterday and today.

Roger and Tiffany Givens

33° Degree Candidate Brother Roger Givens, Jr., from the Valley of Steubenville, and wife Tiffany Givens enjoy the Candidate Celebration

Monday: General Session and Oktoberfest

The first rainy day of the week in Milwaukee, guests packed the Miller High Life Theatre for an action-packed General Session. Distinguished guests from around the country and the world were introduced. Grand Masters from the 15 states in our jurisdiction, Prince Hall dignitaries, and Scottish Rite representatives from Haiti, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Romania, Greece, and Italy to name a few.

General Session

General Session was both informative and entertaining

At the meeting Supreme Council staff presented updates on our Path Forward initiative, the outstanding works of our charities, and a round-up of our most amazing membership year in decades. The meeting was balanced with both business and fun, with music and comedy courtesy of Tony Pace, followed by an unexpected visit from “Carnac the Magnificent” (or could it have been former Commander John Wm. McNaughton? We'll let you decide).


Carnac or former Sovereign Grand Commander McNaughton?

The awards presentations were especially moving. Brother Samuel C. Williamson, 33° and Brother William E. Holland, 33°, each received a Medal of Honor. Second only to the Gourgas Medal, the Medal of Honor is conferred by the Supreme Council or by the Sovereign Grand Commander in recognition of highly distinguished service to Freemasonry, country, or humanity.

Medal of Honor recognition

Brothers Samuel Williamson, 33° (photo at left) and William Holland, 33° (right), receive Medals of Honor.

Illustrious Brothers Mohamed A.Yatim, Yasser A. Al-Khatib, and E. Oscar Alleyne, the three founders of the Hauts Grades Academy, our premier educational offering for members, were each presented with the Commander's Medal for Distinguished Service. These three Brothers were given this prestigious award for distinguished and exemplary service to the Masonic fraternity at large, work not often witnessed among the general membership.

Hauts Grades Academy founders

In the afternoon, a fully immersive Oktoberfest experience commenced for all registered attendees at the Bavarian Bierhaus. From an Oompah band, to a massive stack of souvenir beer steins, the memories from this event will stay with me and all who attended.


Supreme Council staff raising a glass to all who helped celebrate with us

Tuesday: The Big Day, 33° Conferral

Staff and guests lovingly called this day “The March of the Penguins.” What other day do you have the opportunity to see hundreds of Masons on the streets of Milwaukee in white tie and tails? It was a wonderful spectacle to see, and reflected dashingly and impressively on Freemasonry and the Scottish Rite.

Truly the most emotional and gratifying of the week’s festivities, 211 Candidates were conferred the 33° at the Miller High Life Theatre. Two hundred and eleven 33° Masons – let that sink in. The pride we feel at Scottish Rite in these great men and their achievement is truly what makes our jobs so rewarding.

The talk of the day post-degree was the emotional, impressive experience of the degree itself, including the masterful charge to the class presented by Ill. Thomas K. Sturgeon, 33°.

Ill. Thomas K. Sturgeon, 33°, gives a powerful Charge to the Class of 2019

I am so pleased that we can present the charge publicly: You can see it here. To get a glimpse into the candidate's experience, and to hear Brother Sturgeon's soaring speech makes me feel even more privileged to be part of this organization.

33° candidates head to their conferral

It's almost official: excited 33° candidates head to their conferral

A big congratulations to all the 33° Brothers from the Class of 2019. We hope everyone enjoyed their time in Milwaukee. I know the staff could not be more proud to be part of such a special event.

The annual session is open to all 32° Masons. We hope to see many more of you at Annual Meeting in Cleveland in 2021!

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