Elaine Scarry to speak at Phi Beta Kappa initiation

This year's ceremony will be held May 21 in Spingold Theater

By Andreas Teuber

Elaine Scarry, a professor of English and American literature and the Walter M. Cabot Professor of Aesthetics and the General Theory of Value at Harvard University, will speak at this year's initiation of new members into the Brandeis chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.

The campus chapter will initiate 71 graduating seniors and nine members of the Class of 2012 at a ceremony from 2:30 to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 21, during commencement weekend. The ceremony will take place on the main stage of Spingold Theater.

Phi Beta Kappa is the oldest and most prestigious undergraduate honors organization in the United States. Founded at the College of William and Mary in 1776, its standards have made election on of the highest academic honors an undergraduate can receive.

Selection is based on the quality of a candidate's academic record; breadth of intellectual interests, as indicated by courses taken beyond a student's concentration; and opinions of faculty  and senior administrators concerning the scholarly achievements and character of the candidate.

Brandeis' chapter of Phi Beta Kappa was chartered in 1962, just 14 years after the university's founding. This remains the most rapid progression ever from a university's founding to the chartering of its Phi Beta Kappa chapter.

Scarry, whose interests include the theory of representation and the language of physical pain, is ranked among the world's top 100 public intellectuals by Prospect Magazine. She has written about war, soldiering, the crash of T.W.A. Flight 800, nuclear proliferation, terror, torture and human rights.

In addition to teaching English, she has lectured in law and medicine and given the Tanner Lectures on Human Values at Yale University. She is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, has been a Fellow at the Getty Research Institute and at the Institute of Advanced Study in both Berlin and Palo Alto.

It is a great honor to be selected for membership in Phi Beta Kappa, but a quick glance at the history of the organization reveals a les high-falutin' story.

In the beginning, PBK was a fraternity -- not quite on the order of "Animal House" but a fraternity nonetheless. Since 1875, when women first were admitted, it also has been a sorority.

Indeed, PBK was the first frat in what came to be known as the Greek system. It was started in a bar at William and Mary five months after the founding of the country.

Its Greek letters stand for the first letters of the words of the motto "Philosophia Beu Kubernetes"  -- "Love of Wisdom, the Guide of Life." At the beginning that life was mostly drinking.

It was also a secret society for debate, but this intellectual pursuit and rationale for getting together was tempered to no small degree by the fact that debates took place in the Apollo Room at the Raleigh Tavern in Williamsburg where the discussion was often quite literally spirited.

In its origins Phi Beta Kappa also showed other signs of the Greek system:

There was, apparently, an oath of secrecy and a secret handshake, which has been widely researched and has now been identified, but is quite awkward to bring off smoothly as a way of greeting another human being.

There was also a badge - now the famous Phi Beta Kappa key - which Brandeis Dean of Arts and Sciences Adam Jaffe always wears to the Initiation Ceremony, a motto, a code of laws, a seal and — legend has it, although no one has been quite able to figure out what it means — a secret motion that members used to identify themselves to one another. It involves movement of one's right forefinger across one's mouth, a movement some believe was no secret at all but simply an attempt to wipe away the last drops of beer.

Of course, in "Animal House" paddling was the central feature of the initiation ceremony for the Omegas. Phi Beta Kappa does have a ceremony to initiate Brandeis electees on commencement weekend, but new Phi Betes, as they are sometimes called, are neither paddled or branded.

Today there are 280 chapters of Phi Beta Kappa. Six U.S. presidents have been elected members as undergraduates: John Quincy Adams, Chester Arthur, Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, George Bush (the elder not the younger) and Bill Clinton.

Previous electees have also included: Alexander Graham Bell, Leonard Bernstein, Pearl Buck, Francis Ford Coppola, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Henry W. Longfellow, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry James, Helen Keller, Fred Lawrence, Peyton Manning, George Santayana, Susan Sontag, Mark Twain, Booker T. Washington and Daniel Webster.

Nominees elected to Phi Beta Kappa from the Class of 2011:

Azer, David K.; Baskin, Elizabeth; Behrendt, Liza J.; Bernstein, Ezra A.; Bialkowska, Natalia; Buhle, Peter F.; Craven, Kevin S.; Cross, Hannah L.; Dainis, Alexandra M.; Dalin, Simona S.; Dos Santos, Kayla A.; Egerman, Marc A.; Engelhardt, Netta; Field, Jared M.; Fujiwara, Chiaki; Glennon, Samuel Martin; Glucksman, Deena L.; Goodman, Julie E.; Gray, Stephen J.; Greenberg, Carly M.; Gurr, Danielle J.; Hand, Laura B.; Iser, Naomi B.; Jaeger, Emily M.; Koffer, Brittany A.; Koffer, Rachel E.; Kriegsman, Matthew; Lei, Qinyuan; Levine, Adam N.; Levy, Sarah A.; Liken, Jessica P.; Lucking, Brian T.; Meltzer, Seth N.; Michaelson, Melody H.; Miller, Eli Epstein; Mints, Yuliya Y.; Newborn, Michael D.; Ni, Qingyang; Nussbaum, Allie Y.; Olsen, Sarah Naomi; Ostrow, Maarit I.; Polex Wolf, Joseph; Price, Maxwell B.; Reeves, Brian N.; Reibstein, Lauren A.; Richman, Adam P.; Rittenberg, Luria J.; Roberts, Tiffany L.; Rosenberg, Evan C.; Rovenpor, Daniel; Ruocco, Jared E.; Sandler, Darren J.; Schloss, Lauren B.; Schuler, Emilie Rebecca; Setty, Sumana G.; Shafir, Michael Peter; Shear, Matthew A.; Sienna, Noam E.; Silverstein, Ilana A.; Slosberg, Jeremy E.; Sofinzon, Saghi; Sripatanasakul, Lita; Stern, Rephael; Sternberg, Daniel S.; Sun, Chongwen; Sunshine, Elizabeth A.; Sussman, Jonathan M.; Sweder, Mark D.; Tardiff, Emily M.; Thompson, Deborah; Valinetz, Ethan D.; Watkins, Cecelia P.; Wiet, Victoria C.; Wolfson, Danielle E.; Wu, Leslie J.; Zakrzewska, Anita N.; Zegman, Randi M.

Nominess elected from the Class of 2012:

Carnow, Leah C.; Henig, Ben; Kapulsky, Leonid; Kupfer, Matthew P.; McCandlish, Samuel R.; Partridge, Virginia C.; Starobinets, Maxim I.; Starzyk, Rebecca S.; Talan, Jordan W.

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