On May 6, 2014, the Phi Beta Kappa Alumni Association of Greater Houston celebrated its 40th Annual Scholarship Awards Dinner at the Omni Houston Hotel. Sixty-eight graduating seniors received scholarships to help them with their scholarship expenses. With the gifts of their generous donors, the Houston association was able to make college education more accessible for some of the best and brightest students in the Greater Houston area. Each of the winning students received a $4,000 scholarship.
The Houston association also honored two of the city’s most deserving citizens; Jenard M. Gross and Mike Feinberg. Jenard M. Gross is President of Gross Investments and was honored as the Association’s Outstanding Phi Beta Kappa Alumnus. He founded ΦBK’s Houston association and the Houston scholarship program. The honoree for Outstanding Contribution to Education was Mike Feinberg, Co–Founder of KIPP Houston. KIPP was founded on the belief that demographics should not define a child’s destiny. In a testament to KIPP’s success, 90% of KIPP Houston students have gone to college since it opened its doors nearly 20 years ago.
John Tyler Knowles (left) from Strake Jesuit College Preparatory was named the top scholar this year. He received the Jenard M. Gross Distinguished Scholar award along with a $6,000 scholarship. The following is his speech, delivered at the awards dinner.
Awards Dinner Speech
John Tyler Knowles
Phi Beta Kappa Alumni Assoication of Greater Houston
Omni Houston Hotel
May 6, 2014
I have the task tonight of voicing the thanks of all the honorees here for the tremendous gift of the Phi Beta Kappa board and donors, who endow and award these scholarships and so enable us all to be here tonight. This task is a bit difficult because of the sheer magnanimity of the people I am here to thank and because of the outstanding accomplishments of the students whose thanks I´ve been asked to convey. I don’t just feel I’m an unworthy representative; in some sense I’m no representative at all, for the interest areas and the remarkable skills of the students invited here are mind-bogglingly diverse.
Yet there is one thing that unites us all here tonight—us, the students; and our parents; and tonight’s other awardees, too, and all of the Phi Beta Kappa members who have sacrificed their time and resources for this banquet. They’ve come to enliven us with what already unites us: the love of learning—that very same love by which they are made alive. Let us not take this love for granted. Love is sacrifice, and where there is no sacrifice there is no love, and sacrifice is the giving over of ourselves to something we make higher. We say in sacrifice to some higher force, “You command me in this moment. So take me. Subordinate me. Direct my life to yours.”
What is this love of learning, which we celebrate tonight? I think it is a sacrifice of one’s life for learning. Certainly time must be sacrificed to learning—great amounts of time were sacrificed to the planning of this banquet—but the sacrifice of those here transcends even that of time.
For a sacrifice is a sacred act, sacred not because it takes time but because it redirects lives. The second half of the word “sacrifice” comes from the Latin facere, to make, and the first half from sacer, or holy. Sacrifice makes what was not holy, holy—in other words, sacrifice transforms something disordered to something ordered. And what we gain from the sacrifice of our lives to learning is an ordered mind, a wise mind—wisdom.
The person who learns, the person who gains wisdom is the person who has the obligation to lead with it. That’s not to say the wise person lords his wisdom over the masses and bends them to his will—that is just plain bossy. In the words of Theodore Roosevelt—one of the seventeen Phi Beta Kappa members who were also U.S. Presidents— the leader “leads,” and the boss merely “drives.” What, then, is leadership? Leadership, in a word, is service, and the Phi Beta Kappa member and poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow puts it best when he says that life “consists not in seeing visions or dreaming dreams, but in active charity and willing service.” Wisdom, contrary to what some supposedly wise people would have us think, does not confine us to our rooms to philosophize and write poetry. What good is wisdom if it is not in practice? What good is wisdom if it is not manifest in acts of charity—that’s love—and acts of sacrificial service?
The answer is none. And I think that it was for this reason—that wisdom must be made to serve—that the Phi Beta Kappa board and donors called us here tonight. I want to thank them again for inviting us here to celebrate this idea, that the love of learning is the guide of life. No—not only the idea—for it is a practice to let the love of learning guide a life—to endow it with wisdom—to make it holier, larger, more purposeful. Thank you, all of you, for modeling this life for us and so encouraging us by word and generous action to follow your lead.
L-R: Mike Feinberg, founder of Kipp Academy, John Knowles, and Jenard Gross, founder of the scholarship dinner. Photo courtesy of the Phi Beta Kappa Alumni Association of Greater Houston.