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.JC
As previously mentioned, Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “key.” Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/08/19/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-aug-20-2022/