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Office of the President



Mar 22, 2013

Congratulations to Phi Beta Kappa Inductees

President Alger’s Congratulations to Phi Beta Kappa Inductees

Phi Beta Kappa Induction Ceremony

March 22, 2013

Delivered via video

President Alger congratulating the Phi Beta Kappa Inductees
President Alger congratulating the Phi Beta Kappa Inductees

Congratulations on becoming the newest inductees of the Phi Beta Kappa chapter here at James Madison University.  Today is a very special moment for all of you, Phi Beta Kappa members and inductees, and certainly for me, as I reflect on the meaning of our institution and what we stand for. I can still remember back when I was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa as a student in Swarthmore College back in 1986. In fact, I still have my key after all of these years. I hope that yours will stay with you for the rest of your lives as well.

You probably know that Phi Beta Kappa has a rich history in American higher education, having started at the College of William and Mary, right here in Virginia back in 1776, which of course was a very auspicious moment in American history. So we’re part of a rich tradition here in American higher education, and that’s what we’re celebrating tonight.

This honor society, Phi Beta Kappa, represents the ideals of the liberal arts and sciences at their very best, as an important part of the American tradition in education. Education in the liberal arts and sciences helps us to develop very important skills—critical thinking and communication skills—that will serve you well throughout the rest of your life as a citizen--as someone who is engaged with ideas and the world around you.

You never know where the life of the mind might take you as a student and as a citizen going forward from James Madison University. I never knew as a political science major in college that I’d end up some day as a college president. Certainly, now, I have had opportunities to reflect how—on the different steps along the way—my liberal arts education helped me. The value of a liberal arts foundation is something that I’ve seen and heard about time and time again from our alumni and employers of our graduates. I hope all of you will experience that same value as you go forward from James Madison University.

You are starting a journey; you are not ending a journey, as you think about your graduation from JMU. In a time in our society when some people are questioning the value of an education in the liberal arts and sciences, I think it’s more important than ever that we talk about and celebrate the importance of this kind of education and how it will prepare you for lifelong learning and for how you can contribute as leaders in our society going forward. So I hope you’re excited about the education you’ve received at James Madison University and proud of your accomplishments. That is what we are celebrating tonight.

You probably know that the philosophy of Phi Beta Kappa is “love of learning is the guide of life.” And that’s what this is all about tonight, preparing you for the rest of your life. Especially here at the university named for James Madison (the Father of our Constitution), I think we can think about what that legacy means for all of you in your lives going forward. You may know that James Madison himself was a very active and curious student, and a lifelong student. He was a voracious reader; many of us were at Montpelier—his home in Orange, Virginia—just a few days ago and had the opportunity once again to be reminded of how he had read so much of the great literature of political philosophy that had come before him in helping to devise a system of government that would stand the test of time. Just imagine what you might do, thinking about that tradition with a liberal arts education. Who knows what contributions the people in this room might be able to make as we go forward? It’s exciting to think about that tradition, going back to the person for whom we’re named, James Madison.

I hope that you’ll also use your mind and use your skills and your heart to think about modeling what it means to be an enlightened and engaged and educated citizen—to think about civil discourse; to be open to different ideas and people from different perspectives; to have those inclusive types of conversations in our society—that kind of leadership is desperately needed today and all of you can help to provide that.

You probably have all heard of what we call our Quality Enhancement Plan, this new initiative we are calling the Madison Collaborative:  Ethical Reasoning in Action. As we go forward as a university and as a community, I hope all of you will think about the importance of ethical reasoning in your daily lives--your personal, professional and civic lives--and to help to provide leadership for that conversation, thinking about the importance of ethics in all of our lives.

Finally, I think it’s very fitting that we think about the symbolism of the Phi Beta Kappa key that you’ll be receiving. When you think about what JMU stands for and our history, opening doors has been a consistent theme. When you think about that key and unlocking your future, and unlocking the future potential that all of you have to contribute to our society, I hope that you’ll all reflect on that symbolism as you go forward from this event. Think about opening doors, not just for yourselves, but also for others--using your gifts and your great education to open doors of opportunity for the next generations that come after you. That’s one of the greatest gifts that you can give to our society and to each other.

Thank you so much for being here tonight. Congratulations to all of you, and I hope that you have a wonderful future ahead. Please stay in touch with the university. Again, your induction into Phi Beta Kappa is a great achievement for all of you. Thank you very much.