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Campus Phi Beta Kappa Marks 25 Years with 2017 Initiation

One of only 10 percent of U.S. colleges and universities to host a chapter, the Ursinus initiation honored the late Rev. Charles Rice and its newest members.

Even a few days before commencement, a celebratory rite of passage occurred when 36 members of the Class of 2017, plus two juniors, were inducted into the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa national honor society. Six sophomores with the highest grade point average were given the John M. Wickersham Book Prize.

The annual ceremony has been part of Commencement week activities since Ursinus was accepted into the Tau of Pennsylvania chapter 25 years ago, an achievement in itself at a time when only eight percent of colleges and universities nationally hosted chapters.Today the figure is 10 percent.

Mark Ellison, professor of chemistry, hosted the initiation with faculty Christian Rice, ’98 and Rebecca Evans, and Abbie Cichowski ’10, all members of Phi Beta Kappa in their own right and officers of the Ursinus chapter. President Brock Blomberg welcomed the group in Bomberger Auditorium.  

Co-historian Jon Volkmer spoke about the initiation as a call to develop moral character. When he was as senior at the University of Colorado, Denver, in 1978, he at first dismissed his Phi Beta Kappa invitation because he thought he had no use for it. “At my initiation ceremony, I recognized an older mythology professor who years later, I realized probably had nominated me.” Although he can’t recall her name, perhaps that belief in his abilities planted the seed to become an English professor, he said. “Maybe some things will take years to figure out,” he said, “but you didn’t make it here alone. A teacher, coach, family member, friend, relative, inspired you.”

As new inductees signed a pledge to develop and maintain moral character, both Volkmer and Ellison spoke of recently deceased college chaplain and professor of religious studies Charles Rice. His moral character showed, said Volkmer, in” being fully engaged with you …fully there and empathetic.

“Go forth and be like Charles,” he said.

Phi Beta Kappa was founded in 1776 at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va.  to form a student society devoted to liberal education and intellectual fellowship. More than 700 Ursinus alumni have joined Phi Beta Kappa since its inception at Urisnus in 1991.

More about Phi Beta Kappa, including how to make a gift in honor of one of the newest initiates, is on the Ursinus web site at https://www.ursinus.edu/academics/phi-beta-kappa/ . The new members are listed there as well. – by Wendy Greenberg