Scholars made Mississippi State University history Tuesday night as Phi Beta Kappa installed a new chapter and inducted its inaugural class of 77 selected students into the Gamma of Mississippi chapter.
PBK, founded in 1776, is the nation’s most prestigious honors society, with notable members such as 17 U.S. presidents, 41 Supreme Court Justices and more than 140 Nobel Laureates.
The ceremony Tuesday was the culmination of almost 40 years of diligence on the university’s part to shelter a chapter.
For the past decade, English professor Robert West, led the application initiative. Tuesday, West was also named the chapter’s president. West said seeing the project come to fruition gave him enough happiness to counter any anxiety about the induction ceremony.
"I'll put it this way: the sense of satisfaction at that work's completion went a long way toward soothing my nerves about the ceremony,” West said. “Even with the teamwork of Leilani Salter, Dinah Jenkins (administrative assistant to the provost), Alisa Semmes (administrative assistant to the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences), my fellow chapter officers and many other people, the fact was that we were about to do something we'd never done before, in front of an audience that included a lot of people we didn't know, in the presence of the university's top administrators, and all the while knowing it's being video-recorded. The happiness at having concluded our 40-year effort was enough to outweigh all that.”
West said he believes the induction ceremony was a success.
“I thought it went well,” West said. "None of us in the chapter leadership had played those roles before, and it turns out that ours was the first chapter installation that Phi Beta Kappa's still fairly new Secretary and CEO, Frederick Lawrence, had presided over."
When West looked out at the inductees Tuesday, he recognized the familiar faces of some of his students, and said he was happy they received this well-deserved recognition.
“As for what it meant to me, it really was wonderful to look out at the students, several of whom I know from classes or advising and have great respect for, and to know that they were getting the recognition they deserved—exactly the same recognition that has long been going to outstanding liberal arts and sciences students at Harvard, Yale, University of Virginia, University of Chicago, UCLA and many other fine colleges and universities across the country,” West said.
At the event, charter members were inducted, as well as eight Foundation members, including MSU President Mark Keenum. Other foundation members include MSU alumnus and best-selling author John Grisham, MSU Provost Judy Bonner, MSU Rhodes Scholar Donald "Field" Brown, renowned art director and designer Myrna Colley-Lee, retired physician, philanthropist and MSU alumnus Richard Holmes, College of Arts and Sciences Dean Rick Travis and retired professor Robert Wolverton.
Keenum told attendants since his arrival at MSU about 10 years ago, gaining a PBK chapter had been a top priority.
"A lot of hard work by my predecessors have gone into this effort in achieving this goal, has been a very high priority for me since I first returned home here to Mississippi State in 2009,” Keenum said. “Earning the honor to shelter a Phi Beta Kappa chapter is truly an affirmation for the quality of academic instruction at our university, and a reflection of our world-class faculty and the outstanding job they provide in their instruction for our students every single day."
Keenum said last August, when PBK awarded MSU a chapter, it was an emotional day for him in Boston.
"Aug. 3, 2018, was a day that I will never forget, just like today. I will never forget this wonderful day in the history of our university," Keenum said to the attendants.
Additionally, Tuesday, Keenum announced the university had received more than $1 million for a permanent PBK endowment in support of the chapter operations, including the annual induction.
"We have very much appreciated the generosity of those donors who have made this wonderful gift possible," Keenum said.
During his speech, Keenum addressed the 77 inductees and told them the university is extremely proud of their academic achievements.
“To the inaugural class of Phi Beta Kappa, to all of you outstanding students, I want to say congratulations. This is an outstanding achievement that you have accomplished,” Keenum said. “You represent the very best of the best, and I know how proud your family and your parents must be for you tonight, and let me tell you, your Mississippi State family is very proud of each and every one of you.”
New inductees included:
Arlington, Tennessee—Grace Smith, Psychology
Arlington, Texas—Rylie Simmons, Spanish/Human Development and Family Science
Atoka, Tennessee—Jaylan Sears, Biological Sciences
Aurora, Illinois—Jared Liebelt, Psychology
Biloxi—Denton Hunter, French/Business Administration; and Helen Schwartz, English
Birmingham, Alabama—Rachel Nix, Spanish/Management; and David Sides, German/Business Administration
Brandon—Stephanie Flynt, Political Science; Lily Hebert, English/Psychology; and Katelyn Provine, Microbiology
Cartersville, Georgia—Juliana Jones, English
Centreville, Virginia—Brianna Tibbetts, Psychology
Clinton—Claire Hilton, Communication
Columbus—Ashley Imes, French/Management; and Brian Schmidt, Political Science
Decatur, Alabama—Laura Ingouf, Anthropology/History
Franklin, Tennessee—Kali Hicks, Communication/Spanish
Gardendale, Alabama—Lauren Lindsey, Biological Sciences
Gautier—Brittany Mizell, Communication/French
Griffin, Georgia—Benjamin Hobbs, German/Finance
Gulfport—Sarah Wooden, Asian Studies (FL)/Marketing
Jackson—Katherine Carter, Psychology; Robyn Hadden, Spanish/Biochemistry; and Molly Terry, Spanish/Marketing
Lindale, Texas—Rachel Booth, Psychology
Los Angeles—Gentry Burkes, English/History
Lucedale—Kristen Holifield, Political Science
Macon, Georgia—Madison Baima, Biological Sciences
Madison—James Given, Spanish/Economics (B.S.); Wilson Lutz, Biological Sciences; and Amye McDonald, Microbiology
Mandeville, Louisiana—Avery Ferguson, English
Maylene, Alabama—Mackenzie Andrews, Spanish/Management
Memphis, Tennessee—Tabitha Campbell, Spanish/Marketing; and John Haynes, Classics/History
Meridian—Emma Moffett, English/Communication
Middletown, Ohio—Grace Robinson, French/Marketing
Mississippi State—Victoria Lightner, Spanish/Accounting
Monticello, Arkansas—Anna Dickson, Microbiology
Mount Pleasant, South Carolina—Sarah Doll, Criminology
Munford, Tennessee— Meghan Brino, Biological Sciences
Murfreesboro, Tennessee—Nicholas Street, Finance/French
New Albany— Thomas Browning, Communication
North Augusta, South Carolina—Sara Tyrrell, Biological Sciences/Asian Studies (FL)
Ocean Springs—Bryson Krause, Physics/Mechanical Engineering; and Claire Williams, Spanish/Marketing
Olive Branch—Hayden Campbell, Political Science; and Rebecca Poyner, English
Owens Cross Roads, Alabama—William Textor, English
Oxford—Frances Crawford, English/German; and Courtney Fleming, Mathematics
Panama City Beach, Florida—Laura Herring, Spanish/Management
Pass Christian— Kristen Brown, Biological Sciences
Pensacola, Florida— Anna Bills, English/Philosophy
Piperton, Tennessee—John Gwin, Chemistry
Poplarville— Robert Merrell, Mathematics
Raleigh—Lauren Scott, Anthropology
Ridgeland—Krishna Desai, Economics (B.A.)/Political Science
Ruston, Louisiana—Hannah Scheaffer, French/Biochemistry
Saint Petersburg, Florida—Abigail Kepto, Criminology
Santa Rosa Beach, Florida—Lauren Koury, Chemistry
Shalimar, Florida—Kyle Winston, History/Microbiology
Southaven—Katherine Wintermantel, Spanish/Marketing
Starkville—Sherisse Carino, English; David Houston, Spanish/Marketing; Ryan Jeffries, French/Marketing; Suyeun Kim, Political Science; Marisa Laudadio, Communication/Political Science; Hayden Manning, Anthropology/Classics; Katelyn Poe, English; Kathleen Ritter, Communication; Allison Story, Psychology; Kathryn Stringer, English
Sturgis—Rebekah Bisson, English/Philosophy (Religion concentration)
Tinley Park, Illinois—Austin Thelen, Spanish/Finance
West Plains, Missouri—Juliette Reid, English