The mission of the Phi Beta Kappa Society is to champion education in the liberal arts and sciences, foster freedom of thought, and recognize academic excellence.

Phi Beta Kappa is the nation’s most prestigious honor society in the liberal arts, known for recognizing academic excellence on 290 select campuses across the nation. The Society has 50 alumni associations and more than 500,000 members, who come from diverse backgrounds and experiences. Noteworthy members include 17 U.S. Presidents, 41 U.S. Supreme Court Justices, and more than 140 Nobel Laureates.

The Society offers numerous programs and awards, in addition to many member benefits. On campuses and in communities, the work of the Society now attests to the lifelong value of an education that fosters scientific inquiry, liberty of conscience, critical thinking, and creative endeavor for all.

An illustration of the Raleigh Tavern

Phi Beta Kappa History

The roots of the Phi Beta Kappa Society are as old as our nation’s, having been founded on December 5, 1776, at the College of William and Mary by five students to advance their chosen motto, “Love of Learning is the Guide to Life.” John Heath, the organization’s first president, aspired to create a serious-minded student society that would offer more than just convivial social opportunities. A new nation would require institutions—cultural as well as political—as a grounding force and elevating influence in turbulent times.

What began as a secret debating society in the midst of war became something very different over the course of the next two centuries. Phi Beta Kappa grew along with American higher education into an organization grounded in liberal—as in the Latin word for “free”—arts and sciences learning and freedom of inquiry.

Symbols of Significance

Phi Beta Kappa’s name originated from the motto “Love of learning is the guide of life,” a phrase the founders derived from the Greek Φιλοσοφία Βίου Κυβερνήτης (Philosophia Biou Kybernētēs in Latin letters).

The Phi Beta Kappa logo takes the form of a traditional watch key, on which the three Greek letters ΦΒΚ are inscribed. Today, the signature ΦΒΚ gold watch key is a nationally recognized credential signifying academic achievement. As such, members of ΦΒΚ can be referred to as keyholders.

Beyond the Greek letters ΦΒΚ, three symbols engraved on the watch key are further markers of Phi Beta Kappa:

Three stars represent the three distinguished principles of the Society: friendship, morality, and learning

A pointing finger acknowledges the core value of ambition

On the reverse, the initials of the new member, the year of their induction, and the letters SP, which stand for Societas Philosophiae or Philosophical Society

Photo of the Phi Beta Kappa key

Theta Chapter of Florida

Learn more about Rollins’ Theta Chapter, including information about its members, annual activites, and membership.