On Thursday, the nation’s oldest and most venerable academic honor society inducted 14 new members from St. Catherine University. The students — surrounded by family, friends, faculty and staff — received their Phi Beta Kappa cords and added their names to the Gamma Chapter’s 79-year-old membership roster, which currently numbers over 1,000 other St. Kate’s members.
“However you got here,” said President Becky Roloff in her welcome to the students, “you have something for the rest of your life. You will always have Phi Beta Kappa to keep on your resume.”
The event also revealed the University’s new brilliant golden yellow Phi Beta Kappa banner that will accompany all other University banners in major campus events, including Commencement.
Here are the newest members of St. Kate’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter, with their majors and post-graduation plans:
Ruby Bayliss, math
She will attend a summer institute at Emory University and, eventually, attend graduate school.
Liesa Clare Erickson, biology
She will work as a summer intern with vulnerable children and further her education as a physician’s assistant.
Claire Frederick, music theatre
She wants to be an actress and pursue public relations in the Twin Cities area.
Emma Hargreaves, English
She plans to go to grad school.
Maya Angelou Johnson, political science/pre-law
She will attend law school.
Courtney Kirkeide, biology (exercise science minor)
She will start a physical therapy program at the University of South Dakota in July.
Maia LaBrie, English and music
She will attend the University of Colorado–Boulder School of Law.
Sarah Larsen, secondary education in communications arts and literature
She plans to teach at a high school in Minnesota.
Sara Petrea Schultz, music theater
She wants to live and work in the Twin Cities, and be part of the music theater communities.
Gabrielle Thompson, oral communications
She will work in St. Kate’s Alumnae Relations office as a staff member.
Nora Santhi Huffman Vonnegut, political science (Spanish minor)
She will work as a client services associate with Open Arms of Minnesota.
Julia Zyla, biology (philosophy minor)
She plans to attend grad school in conservation science.
Ann Marie Bard, English
She’s still thinking about her post-graduation plans.
Shelby Batterson, political science
She wants to attend grad school for gender, class and ethnicity studies.
Taylor Olin, biology and chemistry
She plans to attend medical school.
The evening’s keynote speaker Ruth Brombach, director of the Alumnae Association for 37 years (1973–2010), spoke about “Liberal Arts and the Love of Learning: Compass for Everyday Life.” In her engaging 12-minute talk, she discussed how a St. Kate’s liberal arts education equipped her with the skills to make decisions as a leader, colleague, friend and mother.
“Liberal arts has given me a compass,” she said. “Liberal arts has created a foundation that helps me decide direction in all aspects of my life… continual learning, continual exposure to new thoughts, new research, additional insights give us the background, foundation and bases for making decisions. I really believe my background, my reading and most of all my experience based in liberal arts gives me the capacity and strength to do this.”
During her talk, Brombach corrected the notion that STEM fields are separate from the liberal arts — and that rather, the historically correct definition of liberal arts includes the arts, humanities and sciences.
To address the ever popular challenge that liberal arts is an “impractical” major, Brombach remarked: “…languages and literature open up entire cultures to us. We can even understand why some people don’t like each other. Is that practical learning? It is the most practical. It is the learning that opens our eyes, opens our minds, enables us to see and understand others, enables us to live in increasingly cramped quarters on this planet. It is the learning that shows us the right direction that becomes our compass.”
In closing remarks, Alan Silva, dean of the School of Humanities, Arts and Sciences, encouraged the students to pause and reflect on what it means to be lifelong members of Phi Beta Kappa. He also reminded them to always be ambassadors of the liberal arts.
“I look forward to this event every year,” said Silva. “It showcases the very best of what we do in the liberal arts and what we so value as a liberal arts institution… right now, at this very moment, you are a holistically educated liberal arts student with the intellectual prowess that allows you to learn, inquire, imagine, believe in ways hereto unknown even to yourself.”
Founded in 1776, Phi Beta Kappa is the nation's oldest and most prestigious undergraduate honors organization recognizing achievement in the liberal arts. In 1937, St. Catherine University was the first Catholic college or university in the nation to be awarded a Phi Beta Kappa chapter. Currently, only 286 chapters exist at higher education institutions throughout the United States.