The Phi Beta Kappa Society, the nation’s oldest academic honor society, held its MIT induction ceremony recently, admitting 76 graduating seniors into the MIT chapter, Xi of Massachusetts.
Phi Beta Kappa (PBK), founded in 1776 at the College of William and Mary, honors the nation’s most outstanding undergraduate students for excellence in the liberal arts, which includes the humanities and natural and social science fields. Only 10 percent of higher education institutions have PBK chapters, and fewer than 10 percent of students at those institutions are selected for membership.
Reflective, meaningful lives
Speaking at the event, Diana Henderson, an MIT professor of literature and the president of Xi of Massachusetts, said: “This year’s inductees have been chosen on the basis of their exceptional academic performance. Their educational choices have included not only technical subjects but also a substantial commitment to the humanities and social and natural sciences — the liberal arts."
Henderson noted that MIT's 76 new members of the Phi Beta Kappa Society "have also become more knowledgeable citizens of the world through the study of a second language. Such an education helps prepare them to thrive in particular careers," she said, "and, even more importantly, encourages them to pursue reflective, meaningful lives, using their learning to contribute to the greater good."
Belonging and community
In her address at the induction ceremony, Hazel Sive, an MIT professor of biology and member of the Whitehead Institute at MIT, reflected on the need we all have for a sense of belonging to a community. She enjoined the initiates to find, and cultivate, such communities in their own lives.
Sive shared some of her own journey across the world and back again, all while embedded in a dynamic university community. She posited that the role of a university is to create such a culture by bringing people together and providing coherence to the world in the midst of their diversity.
As she spoke about being a young woman from apartheid South Africa and becoming a leading world biologist, she assured the new PBK members that a life in the lab can be fulfilling and full of human (and animal) connection, and urged them to prioritize cultivating their own communities, beginning with the people in the room.
Sive was made an honorary PBK member at the induction ceremony, as was Rebecca Saxe, an MIT professor of brain and cognitive sciences.
Henderson, who specializes in Shakespeare studies, provided the inductees and their families with a lively overview of the PBK society. With assistance from chapter historian Anne McCants, professor of history, and chapter guardian Margery Resnick, professor of literature, Henderson introduced the 2019 inductees to the rights and responsibilities of PBK members.
The 76 inductees were then recognized individually, shown the society’s secret handshake, and received by a group of MIT faculty. After signing the register of the Xi of Massachusetts chapter, the new members received their certificates of membership.