Cum Laude Remarks by Peter Gunn

Editor’s Note: Peter Gunn, history and global studies teacher, presented the following during the Cum Laude Society Induction Ceremony on Friday, January 11.

Good Morning

We gather this morning to honor ten seniors who we will induct into the Cum Laude Society.  We celebrate their academic accomplishment and, in so doing, the fundamental mission of the Williston Northampton School.  Think of this as the academic counterpart to the Athletic Awards – only for the best of the best.

The Cum Laude Society is a national Honor Society modeled on Phi Beta Kappa. Williston Academy joined the society in 1921. The Northampton School for Girls received its charter in 1951.  In 1971 the society granted the merged Williston Northampton School a new charter.  Membership into the Cum Laude Society is the highest academic award that Williston Northampton can bestow.

While only a few of you will be so recognized today, all of us gathered here can take inspiration from the three words that form the motto of Cum Laude:  Areté, meaning excellence;  Diké, meaning justice; and Timé, meaning honor.   Excellence, Justice and Honor can characterize the life each of us chooses to lead. It can and should inspire the academic and intellectual cultre we embrace here – not just in the classroom, but across our campus.

On behalf of the faculty, I thank you for striving to live that life.  As we nurture your curiosity and persistence in the search for truth, beauty and justice – you have taught us much – about language and art, about math and science, about history and philosophy and faith – and above all, about a love of learning.

Moreover, we thank your families.  We hope they will enjoy today as a reflection of their influence upon your lives.  Remember to thank those who have helped you to grow your roots and your wings.  Why?  Because, with rare exceptions, our success is not our own.  In his acclaimed book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell, reminds us that success comes from multiple sources.  We are were born with the advantages of our family’s DNA and we grow up benefiting from the resources of our school and broader community.  This analysis does not take away from your accomplishment, indeed your outstanding record results from your decisions about how to take the initiative and make the effort to get the most out of that foundation.  Recognition of the context of success does require that we contextualize success and seek to reproduce or produce afresh conditions that allow each of us to succeed through hard work and determined effort.

So when you next take a look in the mirror – remember the words of John Quincy Adams as ezpressed in nthe film, Amistad, that “who you are, is where you have been”.  Take inspiration and try to find a way to show your understanding of this fundamental truth.

If this were the athletic awards we might try now to capture in a few words the ways each of you displayed your intellectual talents – how you became the most valuable player in Calculus, wrote a marvelous criticism in Literature, kept your egg safe in Physics, expressed yourself eloquently in French, captured a fundamental truth in Photography, understood the commonality of the world’s faiths in Religion, and of course, put all of that into a richer context in History.  But instead we address you as a group with this appreciation.

Any recognition for academic excellence is an invitation to assume stewardship of the truth. You gained admission by being good at school – by being academically superior to your peers. I urge you to broaden that concept of success, to see the value beyond being the one who is right. To return one last tome to the athletic analogy, it is wonderful to be the one who scores the game – winning goal, truly awesome to make the sweet assist.  A true scholar strives to help us all discover greater truth, by working collaboratively and putting their discoveries into the service of humanity.

May you embrace the opportunity to improve an ever-changing world.

As I call your name, please come forward to receive your membership pin and certificate from President Peter Valine and Vice-President Greg Tuleja:

Mika Chmielewski
David Fay
Devon Greenwood
Emma Hing
Jilly Lim
Keely Quirk
Maddison Stemple-Piatt
Eric Tallmann
Haoshu Xu
Jiayuan Xu

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