Phi Beta Kappa Initiation
3:30 p.m. Sunday, April 2 – Alumni Ballroom
President John Thrasher
Welcome parents, family members and friends, and congratulations to each of our initiates. It’s an honor to be here with you today.
I know that Phi Beta Kappa has a tradition of hosting very distinguished speakers. The best known — Ralph Waldo Emerson — delivered his “American Scholar” address at Harvard in 1837.
The groundbreaking speech became known as the “Intellectual Declaration of Independence.” It took him an hour and a half to deliver it.
I know I will not be that eloquent, and I can promise you I will not be that long. But I do have a few things I would like to say.
To be selected for membership in Phi Beta Kappa is an extraordinary accomplishment. Your invitation to what is widely considered the nation’s most prestigious honor society is hard earned. You should be very proud of yourself.
Your Phi Beta Kappa key not only symbolizes your achievements and excellence, it also stands as a point of pride for Florida State University.
This university was built on a strong liberal arts tradition that seeks to instill a love of learning. That’s why it is so appropriate that we are home to Florida’s very first chapter of an honor society that has the motto “Love of learning is the guide of life.”
Francis Eppes, the founder of our university, sought to bring an educational institution to Tallahassee. He did so because he shared the vision of his grandfather, President Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson strongly believed that a healthy democracy would require an educated citizenry.
So it seems fitting that Phi Beta Kappa was founded in 1776, the same year Jefferson authored the Declaration of Independence. Our country has grown and changed in ways that were unimaginable to our founding fathers, but the principles guiding Phi Beta Kappa have remained steadfast.
For 241 years now, Phi Beta Kappa members have embraced the pursuit of a liberal education and intellectual fellowship. They have been the most outstanding students of arts and sciences at American colleges and universities.
They have included 17 Presidents, 39 U.S. Supreme Court Justices and more than 130 Nobel Laureates — as well as countless authors, athletes, diplomats, researchers, actors and business leaders.
Men and women such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Theodore Roosevelt, Jonas Salk, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Bill Clinton and Condoleezza Rice all have carried the key.
And now you can count yourself among them.
As you wear your key, I hope you will look at the three stars engraved on it and think about the principles they represent: friendship, morality and learning.
Let’s start with learning. You are all very bright students. You have studied hard and excelled in your classes. It’s clear that you know how to learn. But what will you do with the knowledge you have gained?
The poet William Butler Yeats said, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”
I hope at Florida State, you have been able to find your fire. Because once you find that fire — your passion — you will be inspired to use your knowledge and talents in ways that will help people, solve problems, and make the world a better place.
This is where morality comes into the picture. It’s not enough to simply know what is right or wrong; we must act on our beliefs.
Maybe this is what Henry David Thoreau meant when he said, “Aim above morality. Be not simply good. Be good for something.”
That’s why at Florida State, we want to do more than just educate our students. We want to help them develop the moral vision to become better people.
I believe you are well on your way. Many of you have had several internships, completed dozens of service hours in the community, worked closely with professors on research projects, and traveled to far corners of the globe to expand your horizons and help others.
You have done all of this to make a difference.
The final star on your key represents friendship. Some of you here today may already be friends, bound by your mutual love of learning and a desire to succeed. I hope you will maintain these friendships and support each other as you indulge your intellectual curiosity and pursue your life’s work.
As you continue your journey of discovery, I hope you will consider extending a hand in friendship beyond the people you might typically enjoy having coffee — or a beer — with.
College is a time to learn about other people and cultures, and I hope at Florida State, you have embraced that opportunity. Our students, faculty and staff represent diverse ethnicities, languages, religions and political views as well as different life experiences.
I think you will find your life will be richer if you can make it an enduring practice to get to know people with different worldviews and then seek to find common ground.
These core values of Phi Beta Kappa — learning, morality and friendship — will serve as an inspiration throughout your life.
I know you have received many recognitions in your academic careers already. But I hope you are able to grasp just how significant this honor is. This is not just another item to add to what I’m sure is an already impressive resume.
This is an honor that signifies you are a member of an elite group recognized around the world. With the honor comes great admiration and also great expectations.
Your Florida State family expects a lot from you because we know you are capable of tremendous success.
May I be the first to congratulate the new members of the great honor society, Phi Beta Kappa. I wish you the very best, and may your love of learning always guide your life.