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Princeton Sociologist Tells W&L Phi Beta Kappa Initiates to Examine What’s Possible

Princeton sociologist Angel L. Harris challenged the new inductees into Washington and Lee University’s chapter of Phi Beta Kappa to use their influence to change someone’s life.

Harris was the featured speaker for the annual Phi Beta Kappa/Society of the Cincinnati Convocation on Wednesday, March 14, 2012, during which 46 current students and three members of the Class of 2011 were inducted into the W&L chapter of the prestigious academic honor society.

In addition to the students, the W&L chapter also inducted Rupert H. Johnson Jr., of the Class of 1962, as an alumni member, and Harris as an honorary member.


A native of Brooklyn who is the author of Kids Don’t Want to Fail: Oppositional Culture and the Black-White Achievement Gap (2011), Harris described his own journey from public housing and less-than-stellar academic achievement to his current position as a college professor.

It was, he said, the twin aunts of a friend, Dannette and Darlene, who insisted that he consider attending college and even drove him from his home in New York to Grambling State College, in Louisiana, to launch him on his career.

“Looking back on my grades in high school and my performance then, and where I am now, it reminds me that even though it wasn’t a high probability that I would be where I am, it was still possible,” he said. “One thing that I like for people to keep in mind is that you have to distinguish between what’s probable and what’s possible.”

Teachers, Harris said, may encounter a student who is struggling and need to recognize that while the probability is not high that this student may get to medical school, “you never really know.”

Addressing the inductees directly, Harris said that they comprise the high end of of academic accomplishment and will come across people who are not as gifted academically as they are.

“You should never take for granted what you have earned,” he said, “because at some point you have a chance to be someone’s Dannette or Darlene. You might say something to someone that will completely alter the trajectory of their life and put them on a completely different path. Had Dannette and Darlene not taken an interest in me, my life would have been completely different.

“I think that for this group, you are probably going to be in positions of influence as you leave Washington and Lee, and will have a chance to pay it forward and to be influential in someone’s life. You never know whose life you can change. I hope you take on that responsibility to try to influence other people’s lives in a positive way.”

The inductees:

Class of 2011:

Jean Chandler Glass Chapman of Cumberland, Md.; Edward William Malachosky of Spring, Texas; and Nicole Rose of Babylon, N.Y.

Class of 2012:

Lauren J. Acker of Bloomfield Village, Mich.; Hannah Agard of Fort Thomas, Ky.; Anthony J. Ballor of Shelby Township, Mich.; Lauren Ann Borden of Lake Leelanau, Mich.; Camille Morgan Cobb of Huntersville, N.C.; Michael Decembrino Jr. of Yardley, Penn.; Nicholas Albert Gioioso of Baltimore, Md.;  Chelsea Elizabeth Carter Gloeckner of Charlottesville, Va.; Brad Harder of Redding, Conn.; David Benjamin Hosler of St. Louis, Mo.; Jasmine Marie Jimenez of Ingleside, Ill.; Eleanor Patricia Kennedy of Munster, Ind.; Samuel Mercado-Rios of Arlington, Va.; Ann Morris of Lexington, Ky.; Patrick Anthony Oley of Richmond, Va.; Barbara SoRelle Peat of St. Louis, Mo.; Melissa McRae Powell of Hattiesburg, Miss.; Olivia M. Riffle of Hudson, Ohio; David Severson of Wichita, Kansas; Kuan Si of Guiyang City, China; Roger Strong of Spencerport, N.Y.; Lauren Ashley Tipton of Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Erika Leigh Vaughn of Chattanooga, Tenn.; and Raisa Velasco Castedo of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia.

Class of 2013:

Megan Elizabeth Bock of Holmdel, N.J.; Max Laitman Chapnick of White Plains, N.Y.; Aubri Kaitlin Charnigo of Sinking Spring, Pa.; Violette Ruth Chartock of Columbia, S.C.; Upol Ehsan of Dhaka, Bangladesh; Amanda Marie Grywalski of Springfield, N.J.; Ali Hamed of New Zarqa, Jordan; Clark L. Hildabrand of Brentwood, Tenn.; Maggie Lynn Holland of Bartow, Fla.; Joseph R. Landry of New Ipswich, N.H.; Joe LaSala of Wilton, Conn.; Kerriann Elise Laubach of McMurray, Pa.; Andrew Channing Martin of Midlothian, Va.; Hang Nguyen of Hanoi, Vietnam; Tamar J. Oostrom of Richland, Wash.; Jina Park of Duluth, Ga.; Rachael Petry of Winchester, Tenn.; Lauren Schultz of California, Md.; Kathryn DeArmon Stewart of Charlotte, N.C.; Beryl Tran of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam; Robert Griffin Vestal of Memphis, Tenn.; and Kayla Welch of Beaver Falls, Pa.

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