The Brandeis community honored 89 Phi Beta Kappa inductees at an initiation ceremony in the Spingold Theater on May 18. There were 81 graduating seniors and eight juniors recognized for their achievements. 

Phi Beta Kappa is the United States’ first and “most prestigious” undergraduate honors society, according to a program distributed at the event. A student is eligible to be elected to Phi Beta Kappa if they have good grades, a well-rounded course load and a faculty nomination letter vouching for their achievements and moral character, per the event program. 

Associate Professor Alice Kelikian (HIST), the president of Brandeis’ chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, kicked off the event by welcoming the inductees. Kelikian said that as the first woman in her family to graduate from college and the first woman to be inducted into Princeton University’s chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, it was “an honor to officiate today.” She then invited University President Ron Liebowitz to the podium.

Liebowitz commended Brandeis students for their passion for learning. “The breadth and depth of curiosity among so many Brandeisians is, in my view, unusual for college and university campuses today,” he said. 

Liebowitz also explained that in its early days, Phi Beta Kappa only accepted white men, and pointed out that Brandeis’ 2019 inductees were nearly two-thirds women. 

According to Liebowitz, Brandeis received a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa in 1961, only 13 years after the University was founded. 

After Liebowitz spoke, Brandeis’ Phi Beta Kappa secretary, Prof. Craig Blocker (PHYS), detailed the history of the organization. Founded on December 5, 1776 at the College of William and Mary, Phi Beta Kappa recognizes students who demonstrate “excellence in the liberal arts and sciences,” according to the Phi Beta Kappa website. Ten percent of institutions of higher learning have Phi Beta Kappa chapters, and ten percent of students in each class are elected, Blocker said. He also said that the society began admitting women in 1875. According to the Phi Beta Kappa website, the first Black member was inducted in 1874. 

Associate Professor and Brandeis Phi Beta Kappa treasurer Xing Hang (HIST) read the names of the inductees as they came to the stage to accept their certificates. 

54-year Phi Beta Kappa member and Henry F. Fischbach Professor of Chemistry Irving Epstein (CHEM) gave the Phi Beta Kappa Address. According to Epstein, 17 United States presidents, 38 Supreme Court Justices and over 130 Nobel laureates are Phi Beta Kappa members. He also pointed out that Mark Twain, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Peyton Manning had been inducted into the society.

Epstein encouraged the inductees to find a career they were so passionate about that they’d be willing to do the work for no pay. “All of you have found … several things that you’re good at, or you wouldn’t be here today,” he said. “I hope that you’ve also discovered a love for at least one of those things and that you will be able to shape your future endeavors around that love.” 

Epstein concluded the ceremony by explaining “imposter syndrome,” a term used to describe “a feeling in which someone doubts their own accomplishments and suffers from the persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud,” he said. “My advice,” he said, “is get over it. … You’ve earned your place here.”