Petsko speaks at Phi Beta Kappa induction ceremony
Published: Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, May 22, 2012 00:05
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, always be skeptical, and “finish well.” That was the advice given to the 84 newest members of the Brandeis University Mu Chapter of Massachusetts Phi Beta Kappa by Prof. Emeritus Gregory A. Petsko (BCHM) at their induction ceremony in the Spingold Theater Center on Saturday.
The academic honor society inducted 77 new members from the Class of 2012 and seven from the Class of 2013, representing the top students of those classes according to their academic standing, range of courses taken and recommendations from faculty.
Two alumni from the Class of 1952 were also inducted, the final members of the Brandeis Honor Society from Brandeis’ first graduating class to receive the honor. Neither was able to attend the ceremony.
According to a history of Phi Beta Kappa presented by Prof. Emeritus Frank Trenery Dolbear, Jr. (ECON) at the induction, the society is only established at about 10 percent of colleges and universities in the United States, while each chapter elects only 10 percent of its school’s students, meaning that members are among the top one percent of students in the country.
Petsko, the Gyula and Katica Tauber Professor of Biochemistry and Chemistry, centered his address around the story of nineteenth century French scientist Louis Pasteur, who administered the first rabies vaccine to a human, using the historical anecdote to illustrate the importance of daring and learning to “embrace error.”
“One of the most important things I’ve learned in 40 years of being a scientist is that if you are afraid of making mistakes, you won’t get very far,” said Petsko.
He also advised students to keep an open mind and remember the importance of character. He stressed that, in their future endeavors, it “doesn’t make a difference how many defeats you have. The only battle you ever have to win is the last one”—the main idea behind his concept of “finishing well.”
Having a Brandeis professor deliver the Phi Beta Kappa address, as opposed to an outside speaker, “will become a tradition, I think,” said Mu Chapter President Prof. Kathryn Graddy (ECON) in an interview with the Justice. “I think we have some fantastic academics at Brandeis, such as Greg Petsko, and I thought he gave an unbelievable address.”
Last year’s speaker, Professor Elaine Scarry, the Walter M. Cabot Professor of Aesthetics and General Theory of Value at Harvard University, drew mixed reactions from the audience with her controversial comments on nuclear weapons.
University President Frederick Lawrence, who became a member of Phi Beta Kappa as an undergraduate at Williams College, commended the new inductees in his opening remarks. “It is a great honor, and one that you’ll carry with you for the rest of your lives.”