SoCS: JC’s Confessions #25

When I saw that Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week was “key,” I knew that this would be another intersection with JC’s Confessions, my occasional series in which I “confess” to things that aren’t really sins but that I feel vaguely guilty about. (I’ll paste the usual intro to JC’s Confessions at the end of this post.)

I sometimes wear my Phi Beta Kappa key when I am nervous about a challenging meeting as a confidence booster. It’s on a necklace chain, so it isn’t that noticeable and, if someone does notice it, they are likely to think that it’s just my sorority or my husband’s fraternity key. (This would only be possible if the person doesn’t know us. I went to Smith College, which does not have sororities. B’s university did have fraternities but he would never have considered joining one.)

I think the origin of my feeling guilty about it is that I’m wearing it as a secret reminder that I am intelligent in the best liberal-artsy way, that I can use those skills to delve into new terrain, and that I can contribute to solutions to complicated problems.

That I want my membership in Phi Beta Kappa to be a secret is the problem.

So, I was always a good student. I was valedictorian of my high school class. I graduated summa cum laude from Smith College, which, at that time, placed me in the top 1% of my class. I made first election to Phi Beta Kappa in the fall of my senior year.

There is somehow in the United States an undercurrent of suspicion of people who are “smart.” Having been a good student is taken to mean that you must hold yourself above others. This is not at all true of me but others may assume it is and react in a hostile way.

I nearly always kept my little secret undetected. The one time someone noticed and commented on my key was when I was serving as a parent volunteer on a school district committee doing curriculum work. It was daunting for me to be the one person who was not a professional educator. We did do training together for the work but I had to rely on my personal skills and intellect rather than on pertinent academic background in education. Thus, my need to boost my confidence with my key.

During a break, one of the teachers commented on my Phi Beta Kappa. I probably blushed! In retrospect, it shouldn’t have surprised me, as he earned a couple of degrees from Harvard himself and would certainly have known those Greek letters when he saw them.

It was nice to have someone in on my secret that day, someone who understood what it meant without thinking I was being a show-off.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve worn my Phi Beta Kappa key. My life has been much more contained, especially since COVID appeared.

Maybe I’ll wear it someday not as a confidence booster but as a celebration of my now long ago academic past.

In the first few seasons of The Late Show, Stephen Colbert did a recurring skit, then a best-selling book, called Midnight Confessions, in which he “confesses” to his audience with the disclaimer that he isn’t sure these things are really sins but that he does “feel bad about them.” While Stephen and his writers are famously funny, I am not, so my JC’s Confessions will be somewhat more serious reflections, but they will be things that I feel bad about. Stephen’s audience always forgives him at the end of the segment; I’m not expecting that – and these aren’t really sins – but comments are always welcome.


As previously mentioned, Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “key.” Join us! Find out more here:


Author: Joanne Corey

Please come visit my eclectic blog, Top of JC's Mind. You can never be sure what you'll find!

16 thoughts on “SoCS: JC’s Confessions #25”

  1. I don’t think you should ever be ashamed or embarrassed by your “smarts” or the key around your neck, nor should you ever feel less than because someone has a higher degree of education. No one should. I feel that everyone is entitled to a good education (without going into debt for life) and that there are too many people who don’t educate themselves in matters of consequence. I passed a house the other day that had an anti-woke sign in the window. I just sighed because that is probably the type of person who would hold your education against you – covering up for their own absence of knowledge. So, yeah, be proud of who you are and don’t let the naysayers or your head tell you otherwise.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Athletes don’t feel shame at excelling in a sport. But maybe your beliefs came from someone who didn’t understand. It seems like you’re on your way to celebrating your smarts and wearing your key with healthy pride.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. When I was growing up, being academically oriented or “smart” was viewed with suspicion by local folks, as though you were guilty of putting on airs or not knowing your place or boasting. When I was at Smith, everyone was a good student and I didn’t really compare myself to others. I was too busy with my own work. Graduating summa cum laude came as a bit of shock at our awards convocation; it hadn’t really occurred to me that that would happen.

      Given that most of my adult life has been taken up with caregiving and volunteering, my academic talents faded into the realm inside my head. Because caregiving is not given much real respect in our culture, I had to remind myself that I was still using my brain at a time when others sometimes scolded me for “wasting my education” because I wasn’t earning money and “doing it all.”

      So, it’s complicated but what else is new?


      1. I agree that caregiving is not given the respect it deserves. It reminds me that there are many different kinds of intelligence that overlap. Lots of people don’t do what they officially went to college for or majored in. As we get older and wiser, we learn what’s important.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes. Many people have a very narrow view of what intelligence means; as you say, it is an interplay of different types. I think people too often look at education as a training ground for a particular skill or profession. I prefer to look at it as a way to learn various thinking skills that can then be used across the wide range of situations and decisions we encounter in our daily lives. Of course, I didn’t realize any of that when I was actually in school.

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            1. It’s something that became clear to me when I was volunteering doing the curriculum work related to the anecdote in the post. I had come on to do music curriculum because that was my major but they added a committee working on the gifted and talented program, so I served there as well. While the music program was about specific content for different grade levels, the gifted and talented program was working with concepts, such as critical thinking, creative thinking, emotional intelligence, etc. It became apparent that this was really the overarching curriculum for all students; the only difference was that the students in the gifted and talented program were ready to demonstrate these skills at younger ages. I think that in many schools over time, teachers have become more explicit with students and the community that they aren’t just teaching “the three Rs” but are teaching how to think and learn for a lifetime.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. At least they are trying to teach how to think and learn for a lifetime in spite of policies that urge teaching for standardized tests. I have great admiration for teachers – in and out of classrooms.

                Liked by 1 person

  3. I love that you have this ritual to give you confidence when you feel the need for it. Like a superpower you earned with all those years of hard work and can bring out when you need it today. It seems a very intelligent use of the key to me. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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