91 Seniors Named to Phi Beta Kappa

Last chances abound for the Class of 2007 in this, the final stretch of their lives as Harvard College students. For a select portion of the class, a last chance at one of undergraduate education’s greatest honors turned out to be their best.

In ceremonies to be held today, the Harvard chapter of Phi Beta Kappa (PBK) will acquire 91 new members, increasing the total number of this year’s PBK graduates to 163.

Invitations to the honor society are first extended in the spring of every academic class’ junior year, at which time 24 inductees are named. In November, an additional 48 are added, and final invitations sent out in May bring the total number of PBK students to 10 percent of the graduating class.

“I’m obviously overjoyed,” said new inductee Joshua C. Phillips ’07, who may be best known to the Harvard community as a co-writer of “The Tent Commandments,” this year’s Hasty Pudding Theatricals production. “For me, I don’t consider myself remarkably brilliant or even the hardest worker,” Phillips said. “In fact I did a lot of extracurriculars.” But, he added, “I kept pretty organized juggling both the extracurriculars and the academics—it seemed to work.” Phillips, who was making his second run at a coveted PBK spot after falling short in the fall, will be heading off to Hollywood after graduation as a scriptwriter for a film production company. “I kind of was like, ‘I’m kind of excited to see what will happen this time,’” he said.

“I think they’re really looking for depth inside your concentration,” said Lauren M. Wolchok ’07, an Earth and Planetary Sciences concentrator who thought her commitment to her field of study was rewarded by the PBK selection committee.

In fact, Wolchok will be putting her concentration to use immediately, as she plans to teach ecology and environmental sciences at an outdoors center outside of Los Angeles following her commencement—with a more long-term plan of extending her education. “Hopefully I’ll go back to school,” she said.

Despite their excitement at the honor of being named to the oldest continuously existing chapter of the revered academic society, the inductees seemed to be unsure of what to expect at today’s initiation.

“My brother was PBK—there’s a poet who reads a poem, and there’s some sort of speech that somebody gives,” said Simon N. Nicholas ’07, who among other things, has been an active member of Harvard’s choral music community and will be employed by Teach for America next year.

“All I know is that we wear a cap and gown,” Phillips said. “I think there might be a key involved.”

James F. Coakley ’68, secretary of Harvard’s PBK chapter—Alpha Iota of Massachusetts—shed a bit of light on the mystery surrounding the ceremony to come. “We don’t give people anything but a certificate, and there’s a great deal of handshaking, but that’s about it,” said Coakley, who is also a senior lecturer on Near Eastern languages and civilizations.

“There’s no secret handshake,” he said, adding that in the event that Harvard’s chapter did have a secret members-only greeting at some point in its centuries-long history, “I don’t think anybody knows what the handshake once was.”

—Staff writer Nicholas A. Ciani can be reached at