8. Phi Beta Delta: The Book

Phi Beta Delta displays an open book on its medallion. Many colleges and universities as well as learned societies do so. Harvard has three books, and in the nineteenth century the Harvard alumni and faculty debated whether there should be three open books. Two books were open, displaying "VE" and "RI " but one of the books was displayed with its cover because the Harvard motto, Veritas, divided nicely into VE RI TAS and if there was a closed book then the last three letters of veritas, the Latin word for truth, could be displayed neatly with one letter, the "A" on the spine of the book.

Well, eventually and after an all too long discussion which even involved its alumnus and President of the United States, John Quincy Adams, Harvard decided that despite the strong artistic argument for having one book cover-side out, that it wasn't symbolically appropriate and the books should all appear open, with the "A" straddling the space between two pages. So it is today.

The Phi Beta Delta book has appeared in various guises. Sometimes it seems to be a bigger book and have more pages than other times! Some artists just give it a few pages. Fortunately it is an open book. It isn't one specific book, and could and perhaps should be the book that has most influenced you. Or it could remind you of good times in the library on a rainy day, or the book you bought on a magic trip to Paris, or the book your family gave you on a birthday. What is important it is an open book, and just as Harvard decided a long time ago that an open book was a symbolic shorthand for what education is about, it's our reminder of the treasures that books can hold for us -- a wonderful world that can transform us. We are, after all, a society for scholars!

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