Thirteen juniors, 62 seniors and Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough ’55 were inducted into Yale’s chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa honor society Saturday at a ceremony which also saw the establishment of the Joseph W. Gordon Award for Distinguished Contributions to the Arts and Sciences.
Election into the nation’s oldest academic honor society is based on the percentage of straight-A grades earned in college courses. At Yale, students may be inducted to the society in three rounds: in their junior fall, senior fall or at Commencement. The society’s rule also writes that no more than 10 percent of a graduating class may be elected.
At the ceremony, Associate Dean of Yale College and Dean of Academic Programs George Levesque, who serves as graduate secretary and treasurer for Yale’s chapter of PBK, told the latest inductees about the society’s storied past and the esteemed company they were about to join, which includes 17 U.S. presidents, 38 U.S. Supreme Court justices and 136 Nobel laureates.
“In accordance with the rules of this Chapter and in consequence of our high opinion of your intellectual character, supported by your outstanding academic record, you have been selected as worthy of becoming members of Phi Beta Kappa,” Levesque said in a speech. “Your names have been submitted to the scrutiny of the constitutional electors of this chapter, and have met with their approval.”
Following the undergraduate induction procedures, Levesque also announced the induction of McCullough as an honorary member of PBK. Although he was not elected into PBK as an undergraduate at Yale, McCullough has gone on to win numerous awards for his work as a historian and an author. He is a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize and is the recipient of more than 50 honorary degrees. In 2003, he was selected by the National Endowment for the Humanities as the Jefferson Lecturer, which is the highest honor the federal government confers for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities. And in 2006, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award.
Each chapter has the authority to elect a very small number of people as honorary members, and the Yale chapter does so sparingly, Levesque said. The honorary induction is usually reserved for people whose colleges did not have a chapter of PBK, he added.
“For our recipient today, however, I think we just have to admit that Yale made a mistake, which we’re now hoping to correct 60 years later, and I hope there are no hard feelings,” Levesque said when introducing McCullough.
McCullough was also announced as the first recipient of the Joseph W. Gordon Award for Distinguished Contributions to the Arts and Sciences, which has been established to honor long-serving Deputy Dean of Yale College and Dean of Undergraduate Education Joseph Gordon, who will retire in January. During his four decades at Yale, Gordon has served as an English professor, as Yale’s first openly gay college master, as a member of the Executive Committee and even as a fry cook in Commons during a blizzard that shut down the University for two days in 2013.
Levesque said Gordon has exemplified the three distinguishing characteristics of PBK — friendship, morality and scholarship — throughout his career. He praised Gordon’s role in improving the academics and scholarship of Yale College.
“No one has logged more hours at Yale monitoring the curriculum, approving new courses, reviewing majors, improving teaching and learning, promoting the arts and supporting the libraries and galleries than Joe Gordon,” Levesque said. “Indeed, so much of what is good and right and beautiful about Yale College is because of Joe.”
Mason Ji ’16, a senior inductee who was recently named a Rhodes Scholar, said that although he could not attend the actual ceremony, being inducted was a great moment as he felt like the work of the past three years has paid off. He said the inductees had participated in a meet and greet last month, where he was amazed by the array of amazing things people were doing.
“One of my friends I met at the event is an amazing drama writer, and I had never met anyone who wrote dramas before,” Ji said. “It is great that even in senior year, I can meet new and amazing peers.”
Derek Soled ’16, another senior inductee, said the induction ceremony was a humbling and inspiring experience.
“It was a real honor to be there and be inducted,” Soled said. “Being surrounded by individuals who have thrived in their own ways was extremely humbling and it was something really special.”
The Joseph W. Gordon Award for Distinguished Contributions to the Arts and Sciences will be given annually to a Yale College graduate in recognition of distinguished service and contributions, in academics or professional life, in the arts, letters or sciences.