The Phi Beta Kappa Society, the nation’s oldest academic honor society, held its MIT induction ceremony on Thursday, May 26, admitting 82 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.
Speaking at the first in-person ceremony since 2019, Emily Richmond Pollock, associate professor of music and executive board member of Xi of Massachusetts, said: “These students were chosen on the basis of their exceptional academic performance. They not only demonstrated excellence in technical subjects, but also a substantial commitment to the humanities and social and natural sciences — the liberal arts."
Elizabeth Wood, professor of history at MIT and member of Xi of Massachusetts, began her talk with a reflection on the Phi Beta Kappa motto, “Love of wisdom is the helmsman of life.” She stated, “Here at MIT in general, and in SHASS in particular, we strive hard to educate our students in what I call 'paradigm shifts,' thinking about social, political, and cultural topics in new ways in order to be better citizens.”
In that tradition, she offered the students what she called, “their last MIT lecture,” on the question “Would Vladimir Putin be invited to join Phi Beta Kappa?” Wood enjoined the audience to use the classroom as a forum for debate, so all answers were welcome. She then proceeded to give an engaging overview of the history of Ukraine and Russia and imagery of Putin as a war leader.
After the lecture, Pollock, who specializes in opera studies, provided the inductees and their families with an overview of the PBK society. With assistance from chapter historian Senior Associate Dean David Randall and Rebecca Saxe, chapter guardian and professor of brain and cognitive sciences, Pollock introduced the 2022 inductees to the rights and responsibilities of PBK members and invited any returnees from the classes of 2020 and 2021 to join.
The 82 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.