Dear Faculty, Staff, Alumni and Friends,
It’s the season for end-of-year recognitions and awards. For those students who excel, it can be a bit overwhelming, especially for graduating seniors for whom four years—and sometimes a whole lifetime—of hard work, determination, and focus culminate in this fleeting moment.
One such recognition is the invitation to join Phi Beta Kappa, the oldest and most prestigious academic honor society in the United States, dedicated to furthering the Arts & Sciences. It’s not just a high GPA that is required to be invited, but also the range and diversity of courses taken and the extent to which the student has challenged themselves and not taken the easy path to their degree.
Clemson’s participation in Phi Beta Kappa is relatively recent, and it started with donors George and Helen Fant Jr who, more than 25 years ago, established funding to start a Clemson chapter and the George C. and Helen M. Fant Junior Scholar position. That position was ably filled by Jens Holley, now Clemson’s Librarian Emeritus. Ten years of hard work from Jens and support from former President Jim Barker culminated in the establishment of Delta chapter of South Carolina in 2007.
For over ten years, the survival and continuation of Delta Chapter relied on the stalwart leadership team of Jens Holley, historian Steven Marks and chapter president Alan Grubb. We are so grateful to you.
Last week, we were able to stage our first induction ceremony after two years of a COVID-induced break, now under a newly-elected leadership.
The new leadership is Katherine Weisensee, President (Sociology, Anthropology and Criminal Justice), Cary Berkeley Kaye, Vice President (Philosophy & Religion); Alisha Johnson, Secretary (Graduate School Admissions); Chris Cole, Treasurer (Professor Emerita, Material Science and Engineering); Elizabeth Jemison, Historian (Philosophy & Religion); Denise Attaway, Communications (Public Service and Agriculture). Currently numbering 119, there are Phi Beta Kappas in every corner of this university, and I am so delighted that the new leadership also represents every corner of Clemson.
For Clemson, Phi Beta Kappa plays a special role. Most universities with a Phi Beta Kappa chapter have a College of Arts & Sciences, which means that all Phi Beta Kappa activities are contained within a single College. At Clemson, the arts and sciences are spread between three Colleges: the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities, College of Science and College of Behavioral, Social, and Health Sciences. So, at Clemson, Phi Beta Kappa also serves to bring three distinct Colleges together to remind them of their common purpose.
Phi Beta Kappa recognizes those deep connections and the common purpose expressed by the term: arts and sciences. Established at the same time as this nation, 1776, and for some of the same reasons, the founders of Phi Beta Kappa, students at the College of William and Mary, met in secret to discuss topics that were too controversial—at that time—to discuss in the classroom. Academic freedom was still a novel concept. Freedom, especially freedom of thought and inquiry, were at the forefront of the minds of this country’s founders and the founders of PBK.
The 17th and 18th centuries were a moment of unprecedented transition, laying the groundwork for the modern period we now live in. At the foundation were the centrality of critical thought, not accepting received knowledge without constantly questioning it, and developing the reliability of the scientific method. The pursuit of discovery was paramount—discovery of our planet and of worlds beyond our ability to see with the naked eye. Worlds we could only imagine might be there.
There’s a saying, “a society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they shall never sit.” That is what we do in the arts and sciences. We have the opportunity to develop ideas and solve problems that may not impact the next quarterly report, but which we hope will impact the world in decades or even centuries to come. We think ahead. We study, explore, create and invent from an inner drive and a desire for enrichment, not necessarily to get rich.
Congratulations to the students who embody this spirit and whose accomplishments made them eligible to join this esteemed society.
Nicholas Vazsonyi, Dean
College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities
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