Lehman College has about 10,000 undergraduate and 2,000 graduate students. In psychology, there are about 450 majors and 200 minors. We have an induction ceremony every semester, and we typically induct between 12 and 18 new members at each ceremony. To some extent, holding two inductions is a practical matter; given our facilities and procedure, inducting 30 would be difficult. But perhaps more importantly, conducting a ceremony each semester affords us the opportunity to remind everyone that the chapter exists, gives officers and members another chance to play an active role in the chapter, and presents inductees with our chapter’s goals and values.
We invite members of our college administration to every ceremony. In our case, that means the President, Provost, Vice-President for Student Affairs, Associate Provost for Academic Programs, Dean, and Associate Dean of the School of Natural and Social Sciences. Of course, few attend regularly. But I have found that who attends depends heavily on the individual administrator; some simply seem to value an honor society such as Psi Chi more than others. My advice? Invite everyone, but find the administrators who support you and make a special effort to get them to attend. Our Vice-President for Student Affairs almost always attends and has provided significant support to our chapter. All members of the Psychology Department are invited and most attend regularly.
New inductees are encouraged to invite family and friends to the ceremony, and they often bring parents, siblings, spouses, and even their children. Many of our members are first-generation college students. Thus, it is important for them to be able to show their families how well they are succeeding in their studies and the high value that the psychology department and the college place on their accomplishments. Seeing college administrators and faculty attending a ceremony to honor their student makes a strong impression on everyone.
As for the structure of the ceremony, the chapter president opens the ceremony by welcoming all those in attendance and introducing the members of the college administration present. Each of them offers a few words of congratulation. After these opening statements, other chapter officers read the information about Psi Chi and the Platonic Myth. Following these statements, chapter officers and members introduce each inductee.
Because Lehman is a commuter campus and students take classes days, nights, and weekends, many of them do not know one another. To alleviate this sense of anonymity, each applicant is required to write a 250 word autobiographical statement. These statements are not used to evaluate eligibility for membership. Instead they are used to compose a brief introduction of each inductee that is read at the ceremony.
As you might imagine, most of my officers and members hate the idea of doing these presentations (probably just like yours!). However, they do this service, in part, because it reflects one of the values of our chapter. And their tasks are not so challenging if they divide the workload so that no one has to do everything. Different officers present the readings, and each member generally introduces only two or three inductees. Thus, inductees hear many voices and see the participation of many members right from their first day in the chapter. Hint: Encourage your presenters to rehearse. I find, somewhat surprisingly, that many of my students do not spontaneously think that they need to rehearse. A little rehearsal leads to major improvements in their delivery.
Once the inductees are introduced, they each come forward, sign the membership book, and receive their certificates. We also give each a candle and have them remain for the candle lighting ceremony. I admit, this is the part I sweat. So much can go wrong, but no one has gotten burned yet! Inductees make their pledges while holding lit candles. This also provides a great photo op for guests. (Remember to bring something to light the candles!)
After the candle lighting, the candles are returned. (Yes, we reuse them.) The chapter president then introduces me to give closing remarks. First, the president and I give certificates of appreciation to members who have made contributions to the chapter. We try to reward everyone who has done something, again in keeping with our value of getting as many members as possible to participate. Next, I present a brief update on the accomplishments of current members and alumni such as awards won, research projects in progress or completed, and acceptances to graduate programs. These updates also serve to put inductees “on notice” of what we expect of them, and help remind administrators and faculty of our members’ accomplishments as well!
Finally, we take a chapter photo for submission to the Eye on Psi Chi and share in some light refreshments. How ambitious the refreshments are depends on current members. In some semesters, members prepare food. In others, we simply buy cookies and chips.
Now, you might be thinking that a major part of many induction ceremonies seems to be missing: a guest speaker or keynote address. There are several reasons we do not have one. First, it makes the ceremony too long. Because of class and other commitments, we have our induction from 4 to 6 p.m. when there is a gap between daytime classes, which mostly end at 4:40, and evening classes that begin at 6. Trying to hold the ceremony on days when fewer classes meet, such as weekends, does not work for us because so many of our students have work and family commitments. Second, more in keeping with our values, having a major guest speaker can be a distraction from what the event is really about: welcoming new inductees into the chapter and introducing the chapter to them. Yes, I admit, this is probably my value. I have a suspicion that, if I offered my officers a chance to have a guest speaker instead of having to speak themselves, they might leap at it. But maybe they wouldn’t. We have been using the procedure for so long that it has become a chapter tradition. New inductees know at the ceremony that they are expected to be “up there” to introduce new members next semester.
I hope this look at our practice has given you some ideas about your own chapter. Certainly chapters that induct 75 or more students have a whole different set of logistical concerns, and smaller chapters might be able to both introduce members and have a guest speaker. But whatever you practical concerns, I urge you to consider how your induction ceremony can advance your chapter’s pursuit of Psi Chi’s purpose “to encourage, stimulate, and maintain excellence in scholarship and advance the field of psychology.”