I appreciated and agreed with much of Judd Greenstein’s piece on the irony of the juxtaposition of Dean Nancy Roseman’s recognition of Phi Beta Kappa students with President Schapiro’s speech encouraging us to look beyond grades for symbols of excellence at Convocation.
But I disagree that Phi Beta Kappa plays too central and prominent a role on this campus. As far as I can tell, it means very little, except that I pay dues to a national organization and participated in a somewhat bizarre and slightly creepy induction ceremony a few weeks ago.
More importantly, I would argue that while I personally agree with Judd that grades are not a particularly powerful symbol of “excellence,” it takes a lot of work to get good grades, at least for most of us. Choosing to do that work and make that work a priority is a choice deserving respect. Also, consider that achieving top grades brings only a solitary sort of recognition most of the time, in contrast to top achievement in athletic and artistic pursuits, which all involve some sort of display or performance. Therefore, I appreciate the College’s efforts to give public recognition to Phi Beta Kappa.
I myself agree that grades ought not to be anyone’s top priority, because they are a limited and subjective form of judgment. Depending upon them seems to me to be psychologically unhealthy. I think most of the Phi Beta Kappa students are aware of that; we know that our designation as the top five percent of our class is somewhat arbitrary because grades themselves only express so much about a person. But many forms of recognition of achievement are arbitrary, after all. I hope that we can look back on Convocation and the Phi Beta Kappa recognition ceremony and take their message with a grain of salt, while still understanding and respecting the choices and efforts we have each made at Williams.
Christine Pace ’01