At any time of year, it’s common to come across groups of prospective students and their families touring the campus, led by an undergraduate volunteer guide.
The tour leaders are members of the Penn’s oldest student service organization, the Kite and Key Society. Founded in 1924, the Kite and Key Society started out with 10 members hosting visiting athletic teams, proctoring College Board examinations in the Philadelphia area and hosting dinners for high school seniors considering Penn. Kite and Key was known as the “handshake of the University” because, like the universal symbol of friendship, the group welcomed people to Penn.
A 1925 edition of the Alumni Register describes the Kite and Key Society’s role: “The purpose of this society is to spread the prestige of Pennsylvania [as the University was known at the time] in every legitimate way. Accordingly, the society arranges that visiting teams are met at the railway station, that the members of the teams are, if necessary or desired, housed at the various fraternity houses and are generally entertained during their stay at Pennsylvania.”
Over the years, the Society has evolved and grown larger, and its mission has changed to include other responsibilities. In the 1930s, it was an exclusive upperclassmen honor society with a maximum of 15 members. By the late 1970s, the group opened its membership to any undergraduates interested in joining. Now, there are about 300 members who conduct tours for the Office of Admissions for more than 60,000 visitors every year. The accompanying photo shows a Kite and Key armband from 1984.
Today, Kite and Key members’ duties also include training students to become on-campus ambassadors and hosting prospective students for overnight visits. They also tutor young students from the West Philadelphia community and volunteer at the Ronald McDonald House.
For more information on this and other historical events at Penn, visit the University Archives at www.archives.upenn.edu.
Originally published on December 15, 2011