Academic Rites of Passage

In this last week I have undergone two rites of passage binding me closer to the world of formal academia.

Monday, I accepted the invitation – originally received last May, but overlooked because I didn’t really understand what the organization was, or what opportunities it would have afforded me – to join the Phi Theta Kappa honor society.  Membership in the society will open a number of doors for me (though not quite so many as it would have had I accepted the invitation immediately, and with it a great deal of scholarship money I didn’t know existed), ranging from letters of recommendation, to possible transfer scholarships, and perhaps even to consideration for the larger honor society upon which it was patterned, Phi Beta Kappa.  If nothing else, it is a welcome recognition of my academic accomplishments so far, and confers upon me the right to fancy regalia at my graduation ceremony in May.

Saturday, I endured the trial of the ACT in the hopes of securing admission to such lofty schools as the University of Chicago or Reed College, which require such rituals even of transfer juniors.  This particular trial (and/or its competitor, the SAT) is actually one of the things that I was elated to avoid when I first decided against college.  Though I did not study as hard for this test as perhaps I should have, but I believe that I did well.  If nothing else, I am certain that I did at least as well on the real thing as I did on the practice test, on which I received a score of 29.

The college testing experience is, I believe, nearly universal in the United States.  I remember clearly being pressured and herded toward the PSATs and the SAT in high school.  Although Wikipedia assures me that the ACT is more popular in the midwest, it’s not the one I remember being “encouraged” to take.  That element of shared experience, combined with the fiscal sacrifice, the rigid structure, and the intellectual ordeal, makes the ACT an excellent example, in my opinion, of a non-magical rite of passage.

The Phi Theta Kappa membership (particularly if I have the opportunity to be formally inducted) is a slightly different rite of passage.  I was selected by a mysterious organization based on my academic performance, I made a sacrifice (again, money), and will be rewarded with certain signs that will set me apart from the larger student body and with access to information available only to initiates.

Interestingly, the Greek letters Phi Theta Kappa stand in this case, not for a motto, but for virtues – wisdom, aspiration and purity – and the group associates itself with Athena.  Fortunately, She was already on my list of deities for whom I required idols.


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