By Mary Todd
One place you don’t hear a lot of laughter these days is in airports. Between
the necessary expectation of no
joking in security lines to the in-
creasing number of announce-
ments regarding flight delays and/or cancella-
tions, there’s not much joy in flying anymore.
Airports are on my mind thanks to my experience last spring as I traveled to campuses to speak
at chapter initiations. Not all went as planned.
The chapter president at the University of Maine
announced to his audience that I would not arrive in time to speak as I had been sequestered; I
arrived after the students and their families had
left. Ten days earlier a similar announcement had
to be made at Michigan State’s initiation luncheon.
Thankfully, I was able to arrive in time to speak
at three other ceremonies in April.
My experience is hardly unique. Everyone
who travels by air these days has stories, often recounting tales of lost luggage, missed connections, and significant inconvenience. Frequent fliers complain that the seats seem smaller, legroom
feels limited, and overhead bins are crowded.
But enough of my lament over air travel, because the reason for my travel is what’s important here — the invitation by chapters to speak
at the initiation of students offers a wonderful
opportunity to meet chapters officers, see their
campuses, and congratulate students on their
achievement of excellence.
From North Carolina to Southern California,
from Maine to Louisiana, the diversity of ceremonies is striking. Each chapter has its own way
of celebrating — some in academic regalia, others much less formal, some with a meal, others
with cake or cookies and punch. The common
denominator among these varied events? The
broad smiles and joy on students’ faces as they
are recognized for their effort.
Smiles are contagious at Phi Kappa Phi cere-
monies. Whether handing out pins as a chapter
officer at Marshall University or shaking hands
with 400 initiates after speaking at Cal State
Long Beach, I am always taken by the very real
sense of pride students exude. And their happi-
ness is matched by that of family members in
attendance, and of deans and faculty members
who helped them reach this moment of accom-
plishment. In many ways Phi Kappa Phi initia-
tions mirror commencement ceremonies.
In that regard, we might consider initiation
not only a culmination based on past achievements, but also a recognition of the promise
each candidate embodies. I always stress their
responsibility, indeed, their obligation, to use
their abilities to give back, to let their lives
speak, as the Quakers say.
As students receive a diploma at commencement, so every initiate receives a certificate.
That has been true since the founding the Soci-
ety 116 years ago. Headquarters recently re-
ceived an original certificate dated 1901, award-
ed to Lydia M. Wilson by the University of
Tennessee chapter and signed by both Abram
W. Harris and James S. Stevens. Harris and Ste-
vens, as president and dean at the University of
Maine, had joined Marcus Urann in founding
the Society only four years prior, and were then
serving as “president general” and “registrar
Despite the reference to fraternity on the diploma, Wilson’s certificate bears a strong resemblance to those we currently distribute, an important and tangible reminder that the founding
mission of Phi Kappa Phi remains its primary
activity these many years later — recognizing
academic excellence. Again this year more than
30,000 undergraduates and graduate students
have accepted the invitation to join the Society.
Phi Kappa Phi is honored to welcome them.
A Reason to Smile
Leah Treadaway, a junior secondary education major with a concentration in mathematics, accepts her Phi Kappa
Phi certificate from Gordon Crews, chapter president, at the spring 2012 chapter initiation at Marshall University.
In the background, deans and chapter charter members Donald Van Horn (center) and Charles Somerville
welcome candidates to the stage.
Phi Kappa Phi initiates at Troy University pose for a group portrait at their spring 2013 initiation.