Across from the residence where I lived in college stood a mysterious building known as Scroll and Key. This great stone-clad mausoleum was the site of one of Yale University's renowned secret societies. To become a member of Scroll and Key—or Skull and Bones, or other circles like them—was an unusual distinction. Each society accepted only about 15 college seniors at a time, and they accepted only the cream of the university's leadership: the captains of the sports teams, the presidents of the major organizations, the most luminous artists, and intellectuals on campus.
Twice weekly, members of these societies would slip inside one of these mausoleums under cover of darkness. They would enter a lavishly furnished space of historic rooms and enjoy a range of rare dining, education, and relationship-building experiences. If you were a member, you would form friendships of deep intimacy and commitment. You'd take part in presentations and briefings that expanded your heart and enriched your mind. You would sit at table with a cadre of alumni that included U.S. Presidents, cabinet officers, and captains of industry across the planet. The mentoring you would receive during your time there, and the network and opportunities you'd enjoy ever afterwards, could be life-altering.
But being a member brought one more privilege—maybe the greatest of all. It was you who got to choose the next individuals to be tapped. You were among the ones who got to discern the persons to whom would be extended this extraordinary experience. You were the keyholder to someone else's future.
Late in my junior year at Yale, I was invited out to dinner by a prominent senior. I thought it a little strange because I didn't really ...
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