Candles lit, room festooned with flowers, and flags representing inductees' home countries standing at attention, 2020's induction of 55 new nursing students into the UVA Nursing honor society Beta Kappa was - like everything else about this year - different than it ever had been before.
But the ceremony's spirit - and the presence of the color fuschia - remained.
Standing behind a podium on Nov. 7, clinical instructor Sharon Bragg, Beta Kappa president, welcomed the society's newest members, who joined her in the Beta Kappa room in McLeod Hall via Zoom from across Charlottesville, around Virginia, joining from their livingrooms and dorm rooms. Dean Pam Cipriano offered her virtual congratulations to new members, while faculty member Elizabeth Taliaferro-Jones worked with Bragg to call each inductee's name in recognition of their academic, civic, community, and scholarly achievements.
Beta Kappa History
Sigma Nursing Honor Society was founded in 1922, and Beta Kappa - UVA's venerable chapter that today boasts more than 500 active members and nearly 2,000 inductees since its founding - some 50 years later, in 1972.
It was in the fall of 1966, however, that UVA’s nursing faculty first identified a desire to acknowledge students who excelled academically. To this end, a “Promotions Committee” was appointed, and then-faculty member Nancy Ballard – a member of the national Sigma Theta Tau group – reached out to national officers for counsel. By spring 1967, a plan to create a local nursing honor society was presented to the student body, who were, as professor Ballard recalled, “most receptive to the idea,” as was Dean Mary Lohr, who sought and earned requisite approvals from then-Provost Frank Hereford.
Associate professor of nursing Mary E. Hazzard submitted a draft constitution to the national Sigma Theta Tau office July 1, 1970, while the Promotions Committee worked to determine just who, exactly, might be eligible for the new society, reviewing records and assessing grade point averages.
Of note in Hazzard’s proposed constitution was the care and importance placed on “insignia,” which included detailed language about the society emblem (a cup surrounded by a circle encompassed by stars with a jeweled amethyst key and a circle of pearls). Students with at least a 3.0 GPA who showed leadership skills and who “possessed desirable personal qualifications” and had completed half of their curriculum at UVA were deemed eligible. Those with a master’s or doctoral degree who were full-time faculty were eligible, too, as were alumni who had distinguished themselves in nursing at the local, state or national level.
At the outset, annual dues to Beta Kappa cost $15, though a $75 payment entitled the inductee to a lifetime membership.
Beta Kappa’s first induction ceremony was held (as it was this year) in what was then the newly built McLeod Auditorium on Nov. 11, 1972 in a ritual overseen by Sister Rosemary Donley, Sigma’s national first vice-president. A banquet followed at the Boar’s Head Inn.
By the following year, Beta Kappa began organizing and supporting lectures for nursing students, including one on October 23, 197,3 with Dr. Carolyn Williams who spoke on “Nursing’s Expanded Role and the Community’s Health: Viable Solution or Skewed Emphasis?” Beta Kappa’s first birthday – Nov. 11, 1973 – celebrated the induction of another 11 members, before hearing a talk from then-acting dean Phyllis Verhonick on “Improved Nursing Practice Through Research.” That spring, 19 new members were inducted.
Through the 1970s, as School enrollment swelled so, too, did Beta Kappa members. Fall 1979 induction ceremony brought 32 new members into the fold; nearly four decades later, in 2017, nearly 200 students were inducted. Last fall 94 new Beta Kappa inductees were formalized, compared to this fall's 55 members, which declined because of COVID-19.
In 1972, when Beta Kappa began, 57 Sigma chapters existed. Today, there are more than 530.
But many of the original notions remain, including the society’s official color (fuschia) and flower, the orchid. Though corsages and purple candles persisted at induction ceremonies from the 1970s through the 1990s, today’s inductees receive official recognition with a certificate and a purple and white silken cord to wear around their shoulders at graduation.