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Scarlet Key Society Turns 75

New members to be “tapped” in Saturday ceremony

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For 75 years, the Scarlet Key Society has been the highest honor awarded to Boston University student leaders. Each year, inductees might include Division I athletes, student government officers, and community service volunteers—many times a combination of all three. Tomorrow, a crop of 84 seniors from the Class of 2014 will be “tapped” as the newest members of the honor society, joining more than 1,500 Scarlet Key alumni. The ceremony will take place as part of Alumni Weekend.

The Scarlet Key Society was created in 1938 by the General Alumni Association (now the Boston University Alumni Association), and since 2004 has been administered by the Dean of Students. Beginning this year, the Scarlet Key will be under the auspices of Alumni Relations.

The reason? “Scarlet Key members are in the society for life,” says Susan Richardson, director of alumni programs and events. “It’s an Alumni Association honors society, and taking it back really means we can continue this relationship after students graduate.”

In another change this year, the Scarlet Key tapping ceremony is being moved from the spring to the fall, so that new candidates can attend special events and enrichment programs, as well as network, during their senior year. Previously, students were inducted into Scarlet Key three days before Commencement. Tomorrow’s ceremony is at 10 a.m. on Alpert Mall (the BU Beach), and is open only to Scarlet Key alumni and inductees and their families.

The award is “richly deserved recognition” of students’ outstanding contributions to the cocurricular lives of their peers, Richardson says. “Scarlet Key recognizes students who have given the most back to the campus, and have enhanced their community and the BU experience.”

In the early days of Scarlet Key, editors of the yearbook and the student newspaper were guaranteed admission, as were All-American athletes—among them BU football legend Harry Agganis (SED’54), who was also a baseball star and went on to play for the Red Sox. Otherwise, candidates who reached a total point score, selected by a committee, were awarded the coveted Scarlet Key.

Boston University, BU, Scarlet Key, induction ceremony, gold diamond sword

The tapping tradition dates back to the early days of the society, when Scarlet Key members notified new inductees by seeking them out on campus and tapping them on the shoulder.

Student unrest and the political tumult of the Vietnam era made organizations like Scarlet Key less popular and—in the eyes of some during that period—less relevant, so in 1972 the Scarlet Key Society dissolved. It was revived in 1979 as an “honor awarded to outstanding seniors who have demonstrated exceptional leadership in student activities and organizations, service to their school or college, and scholarship.”

This fall, BU faculty, staff, and alumni nominated more than 120 potential Scarlet Keys, who had to submit an application, a résumé, and a list of their extracurricular activities. A committee chaired by Richardson and comprising colleagues from the Community Service Center, Student Activities, Office of the Provost, College of Arts & Sciences, and Athletics and Scarlet Key alumni then selected the final roster of 84 students.

“While we might look at a student’s GPA, we’re really looking for people who have the whole package,” Richardson says. “We look at everything they’ve done to contribute to life on campus.”

Among those with the “whole package” are Ayesha Iyer (CAS’14) and Tyler Kalajian (SAR’14). Iyer, a Martin Luther King, Jr., Scholar, is a research assistant in the School of Medicine’s Diabetes Research Unit and a resident assistant. Kalajian is an emergency medical technician for BU Emergency Medical Services, president of the BU Armenian Students Association, and a research assistant in MED’s radiology department.

During tomorrow’s ceremony, candidates will be tapped on each shoulder with a sword. (The tapping tradition dates back to the early days of the society, when Scarlet Key members notified new inductees by seeking them out on campus and tapping them on the shoulder.) In May, the new members will sign their names in a leather-bound maroon book with Scarlet Key written in gold and the University’s original crest below, and receive a certificate and a gold lapel pin with a scarlet key slanting diagonally across the front between the letters “B” and “U.” At that time, there will be a formal ceremony, with family and friends invited.

“I remember my sophomore year, when I looked up to a few seniors who had been inducted into the Scarlet Key,” says Howard dePass (CAS’14), a Posse Scholar and one of this year’s inductees. “I told myself I would work as hard as I could so that I could be inducted, and I did it. When I found out I was going to be part of this group, I was so excited.”

The Scarlet Key tapping ceremony will be held tomorrow, Saturday, October 26, at 10 a.m. on Alpert Mall (the BU Beach), and is open only to Scarlet Key members and inductees. The new members will be celebrated afterward at the Best of BU Luncheon. Find more information here.

The full history of the Scarlet Key Society can be found here.

Leslie Friday contributed to this story.

2 Comments
Amy Laskowski

Amy Laskowski can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu.

2 Comments on Scarlet Key Society Turns 75

  • R.J. Page on 10.25.2013 at 9:16 am

    Congrats to all the new inductees. A great honor.

    Scarlet Key Society – Class of 2013

  • Anant Shukla on 10.25.2013 at 4:53 pm

    Congratulations All! I wish I could be there for the celebration. I hope they still do the open bar….

    Scarlet Key Society -Class of 2010

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