Rutgers University-New Brunswick Recognizes Its Highest Academic Achievers

Rutgers University-New Brunswick Recognizes Its Highest Academic Achievers

The top 2 percent of graduates inducted into the Matthew Leydt Society

Inductees gather on the grounds of the home of President Robert Barchi and his wife, Francis.
Photo: Nick Romanenko/Rutgers University

“You are the fourth class now to do this, so wear your pins proudly, put it on your resume and look for people to network with. Because I can tell you the folks who preceded you in this honor society are doing fantastic things – just as you will, too.”
– President Robert Barchi

Elise Zhou isn’t just a good student.

She’s a stellar one.

The Parsippany resident graduated Sunday from Rutgers-New Brunswick’s School of Arts and Sciences Honors Program with dual degrees in political science and philosophy and a minor in history – all while researching our prison system’s treatment of recovering addicts as an Eagleton undergraduate asssociate, achieving Fulbright student status and maintaining a 4.0 GPA.

The day before she donned her scarlet-and-black cap and gown, Zhou mingled with Rutgers’ other top achievers being honored by Rutgers president Robert Barchi during inductions for the Matthew Leydt Society, named for the first and only 1774 graduate of Queen’s College, New Brunswick.

“You should be proud of this, and your parents should be especially proud,” Barchi told the 350 inductees and guests who gathered Saturday for a tea on the grounds of the home he shares with his wife, Francis, an assistant professor in the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. “To be in this crew is an elite honor.”

The society, launched in 2015, spotlights top graduates at Rutgers University-New Brunswick and the university’s medical division, Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences. The afternoon event celebrated 171 students handpicked by the university for their achievement in the classroom, in laboratories and in the arts.

The students ranked in the top 2 percent academically and were selected from about 8,500 undergraduates who earned degrees from Rutgers-New Brunswick and RBHS this academic year.

Zhou, who attended the event with her mother and brother, who flew in from California for her graduation, said it was a thrill to meet the president and called her induction into the society an unexpected honor.  

“For me, being in the top 2 percent was never really the goal. The goal was always to choose classes I was genuinely interested in and invested in and to build relationships that were meaningful,” she said. “The grades, the GPA and the honor are the cherry on top that comes when you do something you love.”

Matthew Leydt matriculated as a sophomore when instruction began at Queen's College in 1771, earning a bachelor's of arts degree three years later. At that first commencement in New Brunswick, Leydt delivered orations in Latin, Dutch and English and, after graduation, earned his license to enter the ministry of the Dutch Reformed Church. At Queen’s College, he studied under Frederick Frelinghuysen, the college’s first tutor, and Rev. Jacob Rutsen Hardenbergh, who would later become the college’s first president in 1786.

In 1825 Queen’s College was renamed Rutgers College in honor of Col. Henry Rutgers, a trustee and Revolutionary War veteran.

Left to right, President Robert Barchi, School of Arts and Sciences graduates Elise Zhou and Nainika Ashok Paul, Francis Harper Barchi and SAS graduate Matthew Cortez at the reception for the Matthew Leydt Society.
Photo: Nick Romanenko/Rutgers University
While addressing the graduates and their guests beneath a large white tent, Barchi credited his wife for suggesting he start the honor society – the first to recognize top achievers from across all of Rutgers-New Brunswick, instead of just individual schools.

“You are the fourth class now to do this, so wear your pins proudly, put it on your resume and look for people to network with,” Barchi said. “Because I can tell you the folks who preceded you in this honor society are doing fantastic things – just as you will, too.”

Matthew Cortez, 22, who graduated in January with a 3.918 GPA and a degree in information technology and informatics, said he plans to take the president’s advice and boost his resume with his new achievement.

“We knew it was an honor, but we didn’t know it was the top 2 percent until today,” said his father, Manny Cortez, of Randolph. “We are really proud of him.”

For Neil Patel, 22, of Piscataway, who graduated with a degree in cell biology and neuroscience, news of his induction into the Mathew Leydt Society came as a pleasant surprise.

“I came to Rutgers having a goal of getting a 4.0, but I didn’t know this celebration came with it,” said Patel, who accomplished his goal of graduating with a 4.0.  “To invite us here and celebrate our accomplishments, it’s a nice gesture from the university.”

Throughout the event, President Barchi congratulated, shook hands and posed for photos with students and family members, including Nainika Ashok Paul, 20, of Edison, who thanked him for all the opportunities she was afforded at Rutgers.

Paul, who attended Douglass Residential College and graduated a year early with a degree in political science from the School of Arts and Sciences Honors Program and a 3.987 GPA, was a member of the Rutgers University Student Assembly’s allocations board and an Eagleton undergraduate associate. In addition to being inducted into the Matthew Leydt Society, she is also a recipient of the Rutgers-New Brunswick chancellor’s undergraduate student leadership awards.

The intimate gathering afforded Paul the chance to mingle with peers in a way that her impending commencement ceremonies would not, she said.

“It’s really nice to be able to enjoy this with my friends,” Paul said. “We all have different accomplishments, so it’s nice to be able to come together in one place to celebrate.”