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A Love of Learning

In April, 189 USC juniors and seniors were inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, the pre-eminent national honor society in the U.S.

USC juniors and seniors recite the oath that inducts them into the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa Society Epsilon Chapter of California at USC. The academic society welcomed 189 inductees, many of whom are students in USC Dornsife, on April 8 during an initiation ceremony at Town and Gown. Photo by Brian Morri.
USC juniors and seniors recite the oath that inducts them into the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa Society Epsilon Chapter of California at USC. The academic society welcomed 189 inductees, many of whom are students in USC Dornsife, on April 8 during an initiation ceremony at Town and Gown. Photo by Brian Morri.

Standing beneath the large glass chandeliers in Town and Gown, USC juniors and seniors proudly raised their right hands as they recited the oath that would induct them into the nation’s most prestigious academic honor society.

Promising to embrace Phi Beta Kappa’s motto, “love of learning is the guide for life,” students joined members who have been recognized as leaders in their disciplines and professions. Among those include 17 United States presidents, 37 U.S. Supreme Court justices and 131 Nobel laureates.

The distinction resonated with Pierre Martin, a biological sciences major in USC Dornsife.

“I feel very honored to be part of this tradition,” said Martin who has a minor in jazz studies. “It’s nice to be around individuals who are also dedicated toward excellence and learning.”

Entrance into the esteemed society is hard earned. Those extended an invitation have spent their time at USC demonstrating intellectual integrity, tolerance for various views and a range of academic interests.

Their accomplishments were celebrated on April 8 during the annual Phi Beta Kappa Society Epsilon Chapter of California at USC Initiation Ceremony. Before a packed room, USC faculty praised the contributions of the 189 juniors and seniors, the majority in USC Dornsife.

Flashbulbs went off as friends and family members spotted their beloved Trojan crossing the stage to receive a certificate. One of those flashes came from the camera belonging to USC Dornsife junior Pavika Varma’s father.

“I’m honored to be acknowledged for everything that I have done in my career here at USC Dornsife,” said Varma who is majoring in neuroscience with a minor in the natural sciences. “It’s great to know that all the hard work you put in pays off.”

Established in 1776 during the American Revolution, Phi Beta Kappa is the oldest honor society in the U.S. Only 280 academic institutions nationwide have a chapter. The USC chapter was established in 1929. Each year the Executive Faculty Phi Beta Kappa Board hand selects members, who are invited to join the lifelong society and take part in the traditional induction ceremony. This year’s initiation fees were underwritten by USC Dornsife.

“It is a tradition of respecting and fostering the life of the mind, the breadth and rigor of intellectual inquiry and discussion,” said Robin Romans, associate provost for undergraduate programs and president of the Phi Beta Kappa chapter at USC. “It is a tradition that values living life with attention, self-awareness and an understanding of others as human beings and members of society.”

Keynote speaker Howard Gillman, dean of USC Dornsife, offered advice to the society’s newest members by elaborating on Isaiah Berlin’s “The Hedgehog and the Fox.” In the essay, the philosopher divides thinkers into two categories: hedgehogs, who concentrate on one idea, and foxes, who view the world through a variety of experiences that cannot be condensed into a single idea.

“Allow yourself to adapt to a changing world, remain open-minded to new evidence and to new experiences, assess complicated situations with an appreciative of nuance, engage questions that do not lend themselves to easy answers,” Gillman said. “In other words nurture your inner fox.”

“Then again,” Gillman said with a smile. “By being here you are already ahead of the game because being initiated into Phi Beta Kappa makes you a real fox.”

Information on Phi Beta Kappa can be found at dornsife.usc.edu/phi-beta-kappa.