College inducts early Phi Betes

by Andrew Haringer | 11/12/02 6:00am

The 21 highest-ranked members of Dartmouth's Class of 2003 received early induction into the Phi Beta Kappa Society during a ceremony held at the President's House yesterday.

Seniors Aaron Amsel, Latchezar Benatov, Jonathan Campbell, Tacy Downing, Dan Galemba, Kumar Garg, Devon Haskell, Reiko Imai, Jeffrey Kemnitz, Adam Kuhlmann, Ithan Peltan, Amyn Pesnani, Christine Randazzo, Ben Risk, John Robinson, Sam Schmidt, Jessica Sharkness, Jamie Smith, Kathleen Szilagyi, Jennifer Thomas and Justin Walsh took part in the ceremony.

Galemba, Peltan and Thomas are members of The Dartmouth staff.

Additional students representing the top 10 percent of the senior class will be inducted in the spring, but each fall the College honors those students whose academic achievements are exceptionally high, even by the standards of this well-known honor society.

Founded at the College of William and Mary in 1776, Phi Beta Kappa is "the nation's oldest and most prestigious undergraduate honors organization" and is devoted to the pursuit of knowledge, according to the society's website.

Today over 250 colleges nationwide have chapters. Dartmouth, which received its charter in 1787, was the fourth college in the country to have a Phi Beta Kappa chapter.

The association annually raises over a million dollars toward scholarships, lectureships and other programs to benefit teachers and aspiring scholars. In addition, the society releases a quarterly journal, The American Scholar, that has won accolades and is often seen as the major promoter of the essay as a literary form.

Phi Beta Kappa was the first society to use Greek letters and initially had secret initiation rites, although these were abandoned following anti-Masonic fervor in the mid-19th century.

As would be expected given the society's prestige, the overwhelming majority of accepted students take up membership, according to Kate Soule, president of the Dartmouth Phi Beta Kappa Chapter. There have been occasional exceptions, but Soule said such instances seem more attributable to forgetfulness than anything else.

Soule, who works in the Dean of the Faculty office, noted that the society is relatively free from controversy. "To my knowledge, no Dartmouth student has ever declined induction due to ideological reasons. If the induction fee poses a problem, we offer financial assistance."

The announcement of new members is met with a certain degree of anticipation each year, but usually inductees said that the choices are not surprising. Many knew in advance that they were likely candidates and were able to predict who the others would be.

"I didn't actively try to figure out who else was going to get it, but you end up hearing about it through the grapevine," said Walsh, an economics and math double major.

Walsh said he was not surprised to be inducted, but he said having a high GPA at Dartmouth did come as a surprise to him.

"I wasn't a particularly outstanding student in high school, and got mostly A-minuses and B-pluses," Walsh said, crediting his success in large part to momentum.

"My first classes at Dartmouth ended up working out better than I expected. I think this put some pressure on me to maintain a standard that people associated with me. This in turn gives you confidence."

Although proud of his achievements, Justin put the award in perspective, saying "I think a lot of it has to do with my majors, which deal with very concrete matters. I think it is more difficult to have control over your grades in more subjective fields like English."

But inductees were careful not to put too much stock in the honor, which they said represents only one facet of a college education.

"I'm very happy with the award, but I know it isn't everything," Walsh said.

Downing echoed Walsh.

"The most important things I learned in college didn't come out of a textbook. At the same time, it's nice to have some recognition for academics, as that is the primary reason we're here," she said.

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