On Thursday, April 21, sixteen members of Waterford’s Class of 2022 were inducted into the Cum Laude Society — a century-old organization dedicated to the goal of recognizing and honoring true academic excellence. Its member institutions include the very finest independent schools in the country and around the world.
Each year, the Cum Laude selection committee aims to honor students who demonstrate true scholarship. Committee members look at a students’ academic records and students’ contributions to the lively intellectual community that is fostered in the Waterford classrooms. This honor is bestowed upon the members of a graduating class who have a record of excellence in all academic disciplines and to those who demonstrate sustained commitment to the life of the mind.
The induction ceremony began with comments from head of school Mr. Menke, math department chair Ms. Woller. Then Finn P., member of the class of 2022, shared his thoughts about the benefits he’s experienced with his Waterford education, see comments below.
Dr. Bennett formally inducted the below seniors into the Cum Laude Society. These students have now joined the ranks of honored graduates from Waterford and other independent schools. We will miss them in our classrooms; we are grateful for all that we have learned from them!
The below students from the Class of 2022 were inducted into the Cum Laude Society this year.
Allison C.Avery C.Ella D.Emma G.
Finn P.Christine P.Lexi P.Neve R.
Gia R.Roman S.Devon T.Ellie V.
Megan W.Howard W.Lydia W.Ai Lee W.
Hi everyone, I hope you all are having a wonderful night! My name is Finn Pead, and I’d like to give a short speech, one in which I hope to capture the enormous effect that my education here has had on myself, and, as I see it, on my fellow students around me.
Now, before I go into it, I’d like to disconnect what I plan to say from the Cum Laude award proper, the award itself being but a title, little more than a superfluous garnish gabled against the experiences that, to me, bear more importance. Furthermore, what I am to say, I would argue, applies to a body of students larger than those inducted; thus, it would seem irrelevant to consider it in a summary of the educational process at Waterford.
Anyhow, with that laid to rest, here’s a bit of an overture:
I remember, in vivid color, many of my first experiences here. I came to Waterford in 9th grade, hoping to engage in classes that would challenge and push me more than those that I’d had throughout middle school. My intentions were unmistakably academic. But, surprisingly enough, that was not the first thing that stuck, the academics. No, the elements that would come to define my experience here came first in the vicissitude that manifested itself between the culture at Waterford, and the culture that I’d grown up in, prior to my attendance. There are a number of distinct experiences that I had early on in my high school career to demonstrate this alternation, of which I’d like to recount a few.
The first, for I think it was the first, of these was a trip that I took, a part of theWaterford theater program; we drove far south to visit the Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City. Here, on this trip, I found myself willing and able to not only enjoy the art before me, but to discuss it with those that had come with me. That had never really existed in my life before; most of the art that I’d consumed had prompted little more than individual reflection. Yet here, I found individuals discussing theater and discussing literature at their leisure! It sounds simple, yes, but I cannot understate how important of a change this was; my mind began to shift from curtain to diaphane–I began to become teachable, in a sense altogether different from the academic one. The nature of a good education was beginning to open itself up to me.
Another memorable experience that I had occurred on the first day of Interim. Now, I am, of course, aware of that particular trip’s infamy, credit where it’s due, that is, to a. . . number of small balls of ice, but what I wish to reflect upon came before, and was wholly disconnected from the journey’s Kaikian, or Caecian onslaught. The first day of the interim, our biology teacher and Johnny Acorn Enthusiast Mark Bromley, came to the camp in which we were staying with a box. And in this box there was a rattlesnake, not a live one mind you, it was deceased, pulling up the daisies, et. cetera. He’d found it as roadkill, and decided that it was worth using for the purpose of teaching biology to us students. He found a way to take something generally quite unpleasant, a tire-stricken reptile, and he’d turned it into an experience from which students could learn and appreciate the natural world around them. He showed me then that the natural world and everything in it was nothing short of remarkable, rather, deserving of enormous quantities of marking. He would continue to do this throughout my 9th grade year, as I began attending his biology class.
Here are a couple of other examples: a math teacher of mine, Tyler Waterhouse, upon seeing some interest of mine in mathematics, lent me a book containing a series of beautiful and unique Japanese geometry problems, known as sangaku problems. At the same time, I was taking theater, through which I gained a deep passion for art’s power to evoke what my teacher, Javen Tanner, referred to as Heirophany, in this context representing a sort of emotional feedback between performer and audience that elevates any given work of art–I do suggest you turn to him to learn more about this, he can express it far more eloquently than I.
There are many more experiences similar to these, an innumerable number, really. I will neglect to go into them, lest the members of this audience begin to pass away before I’m finished. That being said, they all had the same effect on me; they took me from a world of docility and complacency, a world of Rosencrantz and Guildensterns, and hurled me into something different, defined by a very important theme. That theme is Love. It’s love for the myriad mysteries and complexities of the human condition. It’s love for learning, and for watching others learn. It’s love for the expansion of one’s mind, for dipping one’s toes into the ever-growing river of human knowledge, allowing oneself to ride, adrift through these waters, and into fields of art, math, science, literature, and all others. The enthusiasm for learning that exists here has allowed us as students to expand far beyond our clayey forms, and into a sort of alternate, positive-sum domain, in which the power of the mind is the ultimate standard; one of the things that I’ve realized while studying here is that humans have nigh-unlimited potential; if you give someone a goal, and they have the ability and the will to commit to it, odds are, they will accomplish it; (within reason of course) it’s only a matter of direction, what you use your potential on, or how that potential is released. Waterford, by merit of its collective love for discovery, has helped each of us to define a direction, and to pursue it, using that bottomless well of potential to sculpt our lives into things that are wonderful. I’m more than glad that I decided to come to school here. I’ve met dozens and dozens of truly stellar individuals, and I cannot wait to see what they all do later on in life. So now, as we make our way into these crepuscular, closing moments, both of this speech and of the 2022 school year, I’d simply like to say that we’ve had a smashing go of things, and I’m more than happy with how things have turned out.
I’d like to conclude this speech with a challenging riddle, taken from one Stephen Dedalus, an imaginary poet and Hamlet theorist.
The cock crew,The sky was blue:The bells in heavenWere striking eleven.‘Tis time for this poor soulTo go to heaven.
First of all, I apologize to the seniors who also had to listen to me speak yesterday. The message of that talk is worth repeating: Your value and worth is not the same as your accomplishments. And yet, here we are, celebrating your academic accomplishments. Irony, right?
When I was twelve years old, my father accepted a position as a chief scientist and diplomat for the International Atomic Agency. This is a branch of the United Nations headquartered in Vienna, Austria. To say it was a bit of a culture shock for me to leave my comfortable suburban Washington DC home and move with my family is a bit of an understatement. I look around this room tonight and recognize that some of you students and many of your parents have had to make such a change. While there were many things I didn’t like at first about my new situation, one of the things I enjoyed almost immediately was my sense of independence. I had never lived in a place where I could go any place I wanted BY MYSELF. I didn’t need a ride or carpool. With a little bit of studying on a map, a Fahrschein, some curiosity and courage, I could travel throughout the city on my own. AT TWELVE YEARS OLD. I can only describe the feeling I had when given such independence as exuberance.
As I was pondering your accomplishments and what your future hold, I realized that over the next months you will likewise be feeling this same sense of independence and exuberance. Bear with me as I try to extend the analogy.
First, in order to effectively get somewhere on the streetcars of Vienna, I needed to study a map. I know it’s different now, but this act of studying helped me understand where I wanted to go in relation to where I was. That seems important. The act of studying has been and will continue to be the same for you: comparing where you are now with where you want to go. I know you all: You will study and study and study. In fact, you have been selected to Cum Laude because not only do you study well, but also you like to study broadly. Keep that up as long as you can.
Second, in order to ride the streetcars in Vienna I needed to use a Fahrschein. That allowed me to go wherever I wanted to. You have almost earned your Farhschein: you Waterford diploma. You have applied and been admitted to many prestigious schools. You still have to complete your requirements for graduation at Waterford, but the one thing we have noticed with Cum Laude nominees and recipients is that they do not have any difficulty working until the end of their Senior year. The infamous Senioritis does not hit. So fight it, Finn.
I want to dwell a bit longer on the last two things I needed in Vienna in order to take advantage of my newfound freedom: curiosity and courage. One of Waterford’s core values is curiosity and all of you have shown you embrace that in full. Independence does no good if you do not have curiosity. Take me in Vienna. If I wanted to, I could have stayed at home in our flat reading a book or practicing my instrument. Television wasn’t an option because first, there were only 3 channels and second, they were all in German. Don’t get me wrong. I watched Austrian TV—Charlie’s Angels, Kung Fu and the Dukes of Hazzard all in German (and we wonder why Europeans get their ideas of America.). There was no internet and no computer games. My dad had just bought Pong for our family the year before, but we didn’t bring any of our electronics because they wouldn’t work in Austria without a transformer which at that time were very large, heavy and hot. So that left my piano, my cello and my books. As you know, you can only spend so much time on those things. So I had time to be curious about my new surroundings.
All of you are here because you have shown curiosity. You simply cannot be successful in gaining a liberal arts education without developing a strong desire to understand the world around you. Some of you are curious about nature and some of you are curious about ideas and some about people and cultures. There are disciplines you have never even heard about and some that don’t even yet exist. Use your intellect and curiosity to explore. I predict that for many of you, the difficulty in college will be to narrow your curiosity to one field. Good luck with that. Some of us have not quite ever been able to do that.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it took courage for me to go off on my own in Vienna. The motto of the Cum Laude Society is three words: Excellence, Justice and Honor. This society was founded upon the idea that students inducted into this society would continue throughout their lives to exhibit excellence, promote justice and to bring honor. All of those require remarkable courage
You all are successful and you all are smart. But what I think many of you have, indeed most of us have had at one time or another, is a fear of failure. That fear of failure brings its stifling companion—fear of risk. I challenge you to overcome that fear and push yourselves to a higher level of scholarship. Study something that is hard for you. Visit a place that is new to you. Work with people who are different than you.
I have been lucky in my life to meet many people who have this kind of courage. It is the kind of courage you will need to continue to live honorable lives as you leave home. It is the kind of courage that will compel you to work for social justice in creative new ways. It is the kind of courage that. It is the kind of courage required to take moral stands, even when there are risks involved. Be courageous.
Finally, the joy I felt riding the streetcars in Vienna didn’t really come from arriving at the destinations. It came from the journey. It came from the process. So, take joy in your journeys. Bring honor to the journey.
I remember asking a student who graduated a number of years ago about how he was possibly going to make his decision about where to go to study after graduation. This was one of the top students Waterford has ever had (in my opinion). Had we had Cum Laude at the time of his graduation he would have been my first nominee. In any event, he responded to my query by saying, “Honestly, I don’t think it really matters much where I go because I know there are people there who can teach me things.” To me this idea embodies what I hope for you. As you embark on your journey, you may not be in a streetcar. But you have the ability to exemplify all that Cum Laude stands for. Study hard, and be curious and courageous in your studies. I dare say that I—actually we—are so convinced that each of you will make a distinct and important mark on the world that we all will be proud to say that we were part of providing you an education.
February 5, 2023
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