From the Secretary: A Year of Uncertainties and Opportunities

Frederick M. Lawrence photo

Thanks to the commitment of my Phi Beta Kappa colleagues and our volunteer leaders on our campuses across the country, we inducted more than 17,500 new members last year, nearly as many as the year before. This, despite the fact that campus life was upended by the pandemic, making invitations complicated and in-person induction ceremonies impossible. I am proud to say that none of these gifted scholars was denied membership for inability to pay an induction fee. Dozens of generous members stepped up to support our first ever Emergency Fund for Student Inductions. Moreover, numerous university presidents, determined that their campus would maintain a strong tie to Phi Beta Kappa, covered the costs out of their budgets in spite of other pressing needs. New members will forever be grateful for this support, and we know that they will be able to “pay it forward” in the years to come.

As challenges continue, we have moved beyond virtual inductions to reimagine all of our public-facing events in virtual formats. Rather than cancel the inaugural Key into Public Service convening, designed to bring together a cohort of 20 gifted undergraduate scholarship recipients, the staff of the National Arts and Sciences Initiative took the event online. As a result, location was no obstacle to participation. Speakers and mentors—drawn from the ranks of ΦΒΚ members in public service across the country—discussed with students about liberal arts education as preparation for public service. Working with these talented young scholars was an inspiration for all of us, as we shared resources to help them along the way to dream careers in fields from housing policy to international diplomacy.  

Similarly, our fourth annual Key Connections program continues this fall as a series of local events, hosted online by ΦΒΚ alumni associations across the country to connect our newest members with these alumni communities. For the first time, we launched Key Connections with  a national event, featuring a virtual discussion about liberal arts and careers, with panelists from different sectors offering advice and encouragement for recent graduates who were in their shoes just a few years ago. The Visiting Scholar Program, too, is using virtual formats to offer its hallmark lectures and classroom visits by remarkable experts in a wide range of liberal arts disciplines, and continues to bring these intellectual leaders directly to public audiences in the third season of our Key Conversations podcast.

The year ahead is filled with uncertainties, but also opportunities. With your help, we are confident that the creativity and energy characteristic of the liberal arts will enable us to continue our growth and our positive impact on the lives of our members and our nation. We can all draw inspiration from the words of the president of Phi Beta Kappa who presided over our 200th anniversary, in 1976, the renowned historian John Hope Franklin:

“The love of learning is one of the most powerful values we can teach the generations to come. It has been a backbone of American pride and achievement and essential to freedom of thought and individual liberty.”

Frederick M. Lawrence
Secretary and CEO