The 1921 Nobel Prize in physics was awarded to Albert Einstein for “his services to theoretical physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect.” It was his theory on light that won him the Nobel Prize, not his famous theory of relativity.

1921 was also the inaugural year of the National Honor Society (NHS), which started as a glimmer and grew into the radiant light it is today. With a humble beginning by a dedicated school leader named Eddie, NHS now boasts nearly 18,000 schools worldwide that celebrate students each year for their commitment to and demonstration of the four pillars: Scholarship, Service, Leadership, and Character.

People like me who grew up in this era take for granted the vision Principal Eddie had a century ago: to create a national recognition program for students that looked at multiple dimensions of growth—not just academics, but also contribution of service, leadership potential, and most importantly, a foundation of good character.

In the last 100 years, the face of education has changed immensely in this country. It wasn’t until 1938 that federal law regulated minimum age of employment and capped work hours for children so that they could go to school, and Thurgood Marshall didn’t argue Brown vs. Board of Education to end racial segregation in public schools until 1954. The Civil Rights Act didn’t outlaw discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, or national origin until 1964. And it was only in 1990 that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) changed terminology from “handicap” to “disability,” and that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law prohibiting discrimination against those with disabilities in all areas—which was especially important in education. But NHS, too, has grown up over the years, increasing access to more and more students and supporting schools in shining a light on the values of Everyday Scholarship, Service, Leadership, and Character.

Being such a large organization, many people think our strength is in numbers. But our strength is actually in our members, and an NHS student member is a member for life. NHS students grow into accomplished leaders within their communities, their careers, and beyond. Long after they graduate, they continue to inspire others to be exemplary citizens, spreading the NHS legacy far and wide.

Furthermore, as we set our sights on the next 100 years, the recipients of the NHS Scholarship will continue to play a big role in demonstrating the value of higher education for strong student leaders who want to make their mark in the world. In my brief time serving on the NHS Scholarship selection committee and as director of the National Honor Societies, I’m blessed to have been guided by the leadership of the recent national winners of the NHS Scholarship, among countless other current and alumni NHS members who carry the torch of honor forward: Gavin Arneson, Jenny Rodriguez, and Aisho Ali.

Our strength lies in our members—so shine on.

Nara Lee
Director, Student Leadership