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February 15, 2017
by Elise Goitia '18
What do a president's chief of staff, the co-creator of the foundational language of computing, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, and the director of the International Women's Human Rights Clinic have in common?
They're all Knox alumni. And they're all members of Phi Beta Kappa.
Phi Beta Kappa is the nation's most prestigious academic honor society. February 15, 2017, is not only the 180th anniversary of Knox College. It also marks the 100th anniversary of the College's first Phi Beta Kappa induction ceremony.
Knox's chapter of Phi Beta Kappa is the fourth oldest in Illinois (following Northwestern University, University of Chicago, and University of Illinois) and the first at an exclusively undergraduate, four-year liberal arts college in the state. The President of Amherst College presided over the first installation ceremony, where seven seniors—two women and five men—were inducted.
Out of more than 3,000 colleges and universities in the U.S., fewer than 300 have chapters.
Kevin Hastings '76 was inducted as a junior into the 58th Knox class of Phi Beta Kappa. As a Knox math professor since 1981, he has been honored to witness so many of his students join its ranks.
"I'm just in awe of what they're able to accomplish as students," said Hastings. "Really, it's their dedication and work ethic that puts them in this place where they're honored in this way. If you talk to any other professor who's a PBK member, they'll say the same thing."
At Knox's first Phi Beta Kappa ceremony in 1917, the newly inducted members signed a small, leather-bound book. At the 2016 ceremony of 38 new members (35 seniors and three juniors), the signatures of 2,028 Knox College Phi Beta Kappa members filled the book.
"It was really incredible to look back at the book that has been used since the chapter was founded and see all the people who joined before me," said Emma Thornton-Kolbe '17, who was inducted as a junior in 2016.
Allie Whitehill '17 is another junior inducted last spring. "I really like being a part of an organization that spreads across the country. We all share common values despite our unique backgrounds and experiences."
In 2017, Knox will mark the beginning of the second century of its Phi Beta Kappa chapter with a new book of signatures to honor members.
"It's very rewarding to see the College reach its centennial observation," said Hastings. "It's a testament to the quality of what we do here."
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