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Twenty-four juniors at Harvard College received notice of their induction into the Alpha Iota Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the country’s oldest honor society, in a Monday afternoon email.
The Harvard College chapter of the society, currently headed by History professor Maya R. Jasanoff ’96, selects new members three times each academic year — 24 juniors in the spring, 48 seniors in the fall, and roughly 96 seniors before graduation.
Elected students “must possess a record [of] outstanding scholarly achievement, showing both depth of study and breadth of intellectual interest,” according to the chapter website.
Seventy-nine juniors received notice of their nomination on April 9 and had two weeks to apply, after which committees considered students’ transcripts and letters of recommendation before making their final decision. Candidates also submitted two short essays — one on influential classes they have taken at Harvard, and one on an academic experience that changed their way of thinking — as part of their application.
Most nominated students received all As or all As with one A-, according to Gillian B. Pierce ’88, associate dean for Strategic Initiatives in the Office of Undergraduate Education who currently serves as interim chapter secretary.
While the inductions for junior students are always particularly selective, Jasanoff wrote in an email that the society allowed a greater number of nominations this cycle than in past years and that this year’s pool “had an unusual number of very strong candidates.”
“PBK elections always leave me impressed by the intellectual achievements of Harvard students, but this year more than ever I was awed by the candidates’ resilience, curiosity, and agility,” she wrote.
The number of students selected in each of the three divisions of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences — Social Science, Natural Science, and Humanities — is proportional to the number of students in the class concentrating in that area.
This year’s “Junior 24” features 11 natural science concentrators, 9 social science concentrators, 3 humanities concentrators, and one student with a special concentration.
Economics concentrator Katherine L. Ricca ’22 said she received the email with “just a lot of excitement” while working on a final paper for one of her classes.
“It just feels a lot like a combination of so much effort and so much support from a bunch of different people,” she said.
Siye “Annie” Zhu ’22, a joint concentrator in Math and Computer Science who is also pursuing an A.M. in Statistics, called the induction “a big honor.”
“I feel like if I were to just make getting [a 4.0 GPA] as my priority, I’d be taking easy classes,” she said. “I'm just very grateful that I was still able to be recognized, even though I challenged myself.”
Aaron B. Abai ’22, a concentrator in Molecular and Cellular Biology, said he had been “anxious” this morning as he awaited the email announcing the inductees.
“I did some yoga and then I got back after yoga and checked my email and that was there. And I freaked out for a little bit and called my mom,” Abai said.
“My parents and my family were super, super excited — I think being a first generation college student, we were all a little bit nervous about how college would be for me and my brother,” he said. “Hearing this news was really validating for all of us and really exciting.”
Kelsey Chen ’22, a Social Studies concentrator, wrote that she was “thrilled” to be selected for the society, writing that it was a “huge academic honor.” Chen wrote her parents were also excited when they found out and reacted in a “very cute” way, although they did not initially know what PBK was.
“They are first generation immigrants and, like me, didn’t know what PBK was initially,” she wrote. “They’re actually hilarious—when I first got into Harvard, I texted our family chat and they both responded with a single thumbs up, and that’s how they responded this time too.”
Government concentrator Alexa C. Jordan ’22 said that while she did not know what PBK was before she was nominated, her grandfather and mother were both members of the society and were excited to hear the news Jordan had been selected as a member. Jordan said she feels her family values “academics and intellectual achievement.”
“I feel really blessed to be part of my family in that way,” Jordan said. “My mom has always been someone to cheer me on academically since I was very young. And so I think this meant a lot to both of us and to my whole family.”
The 24 selected students will participate in a virtual induction ceremony over Zoom on May 5 at 5 p.m. and will have an in-person induction ceremony upon returning to campus.
A complete list of the members of the Class of 2022 elected to the “Junior 24” is below:
Aaron B. Abai, Molecular & Cellular Biology (Mather)
Farah M.A. Afify, Social Studies (Pforzheimer)
Johanna V. Alstott, Linguistics (Leverett)
Sorcha R. Ashe, Integrative Biology (Kirkland)
Kelsey Chen, Social Studies (Dunster)
Michael Y. Cheng, History and Mathematics (Quincy)
Wenjie Gong, Physics (Adams)
*Elizabeth X. Guo, Physics (Cabot)
Audrey T.Y. Jones, Psychology (Quincy)
Alexa C. Jordan, Government (Adams)
Peter W. “Winston” Michalak, Electrical Engineering (Pforzheimer)
Michel B.R. Nehme, Applied Mathematics (Lowell)
Ana Luiza Nicolae, Special Concentration (Winthrop)
Nidhi Patel, Government (Eliot)
Moshe Poliak, Psychology (Adams)
Gerard J. Porter, Chemistry (Pforzheimer)
Katherine L. Ricca, Economics (Cabot)
Owen F. Searle, Economics (Lowell)
Noah Singer, Computer Science (Pforzheimer)
*Matteo Wong, History & Literature (Adams)
Yihan “Wendy” Wu, History of Art & Architecture (Adams)
Jenny J. Yao, Chemistry & Physics (Winthrop)
Andrew Y. Zhang, Human Develop & Regenerative Biology (Quincy)
Siye “Annie” Zhu, Mathematics & Computer Science (Adams)
*Denotes a current Crimson editor
—Staff writer Raquel Coronell Uribe can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @raquelco15.
—Staff writer Natalie L. Kahn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @natalielkahn.
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