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For the Love of Learning: Phi Beta Kappa Initiation

3:20 p.m. Sunday, April 12 – Alumni Ballroom

Welcome parents and friends, and congratulations to each of our initiates. It’s an honor to be here with you today.

I know that Phi Beta Kappa has a tradition of hosting very distinguished speakers. The best known — Ralph Waldo Emerson — delivered his “American Scholar” address at Harvard in 1837.

The groundbreaking speech became known as the “Intellectual Declaration of Independence.” It took him an hour and a half to deliver it.

I know that I will not be that eloquent, and I can promise you that I will not be that long. But I do have a few things I would like to say.

To be selected for membership in Phi Beta Kappa is an extraordinary accomplishment. Your invitation to what is widely considered the nation’s most prestigious honor society is hard earned. You should be very proud of yourself.

Your Phi Beta Kappa key not only symbolizes your accomplishments and excellence, it also stands as a point of pride for Florida State University.

This university was built on a strong liberal arts tradition that seeks to instill a love of learning. That’s why it is so appropriate that we are home to Florida’s very first chapter of an honor society that has the motto “Love of learning is the guide of life.”

Francis Eppes, the founder of our university, sought to bring an institution of learning to Tallahassee. He did so because he shared the vision of his grandfather, President Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson strongly believed that a healthy democracy would require an educated citizenry.

In fact, he said, “Educate and inform the whole mass of the people … They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”

So it seems fitting, somehow, that Phi Beta Kappa was founded in 1776, the same year Jefferson authored the Declaration of Independence. Our country has grown and changed in ways that were unimaginable to our founding fathers, but the principles guiding Phi Beta Kappa have remained steadfast.

For 239 years, now, Phi Beta Kappa members have embraced the pursuit of a liberal education and intellectual fellowship. They have been the most outstanding students of arts and sciences at American colleges and universities.

They have included 17 presidents, 38 U.S. Supreme Court Justices and 138 Nobel Laureates as well as scientists, authors and poets. Men and women such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Theodore Roosevelt, Jonas Salk, Bill Clinton, Condoleezza Rice and Ruth Bader Ginsberg have all carried the key.

And now you can count yourself among them.

As you wear your key, I hope you will look at the three stars engraved on it and think about the principles they represent: friendship, morality and learning.

Let’s start with learning. You are all very bright students. You have studied hard and excelled in your classes. It’s clear that you know how to learn. But what will you do with the knowledge you have gained?

The poet William Butler Yeats said, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”

I hope at Florida State, you have been able to find your fire. Because once you find that fire — your passion — you will be inspired to use your knowledge and particular talents in ways that will help people, solve problems, and make the world a better place.

That’s where morality comes into the picture. It’s not enough for a university to educate people, we need to help our students develop the moral vision to become better people.

I believe you are well on your way. Many of you have had several internships, completed dozens of service hours in the community, worked closely with professors on research projects, and traveled overseas to conduct research or implement projects in every corner of the globe.

You have done all of this to make a difference.

The final star on your key represents friendship. Many of you being inducted here today may already be friends, bound by your mutual love of learning and a desire to succeed. I hope you will maintain these friendships and support each other as you continue to indulge your intellectual curiosity and pursue your life’s work.

I would like you to consider friendship beyond those individuals who you might enjoy having a coffee — or a beer — with. Think about friendship in a more global sense that extends to all of the people who make up the communities to which you belong. You are all a part of the Florida State University community, of course, and today you join the Phi Beta Kappa community.

But are there other communities you can seek to learn more about? To find common ground where you thought there was none? To extend a hand in friendship when it is needed?

You have the talents and skills to bring people together in a way that builds a brighter future, and I encourage you to do so.

I think you will find the core values of Phi Beta Kappa — learning, morality and friendship — will serve as an inspiration throughout your life.

I know you all have received many recognitions in your academic careers already. But I hope you are able to grasp just how significant this honor is. This is not just another item to add to what I’m sure is an already impressive resume.

This is an honor that signifies you are among an elite group recognized around the world. With the honor comes great admiration and also great expectations. Your Florida State family expects a lot from you because we know you are capable of tremendous success.

May I be the first to congratulate the new members of the great honor society, Phi Beta Kappa. I wish you the very best, and may your love of learning always guide your life.