PRIZE DAY 2012: 74 Graduate; Mike Birbiglia ’96, Mimi Gualtieri '12 Deliver Entertaining Addresses

Byline: Adam Cimpeanu Receives Founder’s Medal

Posted: May 28, 2012

The 147th Prize Day Exercises at St. Mark’s School were held on Monday morning, May 28th, 2012. Before an overflow crowd under the big tent on Belmont Field, 74 members of the Class of 2012 received their diplomas. An impressive 32 were Diplomas with Distinction, while one graduating VI Former wore the laurel wreath signifying a Classics Diploma. Renowned comedian, author, actor, and director Mike Birbiglia ’96 delivered the principal address (view video here), while VI Former Mimi Gualtieri was the Valedictorian. The School’s highest honor—the Founder’s Medal—went to Adam Cimpeanu ’12.

A total of 35 prizes and awards were given out to 25 different students. In addition, departing faculty were honored. After 32 years in the Alumni/Development Office, Kingsley “Chip” Norris is retiring. Father James LaMacchia will be leaving St. Mark’s after 14 years as Associate Chaplain. Mr. Tanton, Ms. Miller, Mr. Hamula, Ms. Greene, Mr. Ruis, Mr. Zeigler, Mr. Fuller are others who will be moving on after three or more years at St. Mark’s. They will be missed.

Mr. Warren began the awarding of prizes with the presentation of the George H. Kidder Faculty Prize to English teacher John Campanale. Then the student awards were presented (see list below).

In his address to the VI formers, Mike Birbiglia admitted that he could not remember who spoke at his Prize Day ceremony. In a pointedly humorous and entertaining speech, Birbiglia spoke of embarrassing moments in his life, when he thought he had failed. His message: “Be open to your mistakes! Our misses are as important as our hits. They’re who you are. They’re actually what make you human.” In conclusion, he told his listeners not to be embarrassed by failure. “Failure is the one thing we have in common,” he said. “You’re not alone.”

In her valedictory speech, Mimi thanked her classmates “for electing me to speak after Mike Birbiglia!” In her entertaining talk, she used the often-predicted “apocalypse” to show how St. Markers are “ready to face anything, even the end of the world!” (the full text of her speech is reprinted below, after the list of awards and prizes).


THE GEORGE HOWELL KIDDER FACULTY PRIZE, established by his children at the time of his retirement from the Board of Trustees, is awarded by the Head of School to a member of the faculty who has contributed to St. Mark’s above and beyond the ordinary, and who has shown the same love of learning, compassion, and commitment to excellence which marked George Howell Kidder’s life. This year’s recipient is a faculty member who expertly employs both innovative and traditional teaching methods in the classroom and on the athletic field, to excellent effect, who engages in active dialogue about teaching and learning with colleagues at St. Mark’s and peer schools, and who initiates very creative student and faculty intellectual opportunities on his own time. This year’s Kidder Prize goes to:

John Campanale

All student Prize recipients are Class of 2012 unless otherwise indicated

THE BRANTWOOD PRIZE celebrates the strong bond that has existed for more than 80 years between St. Mark's School and Brantwood Camp. This prize is awarded each year to the St. Marker who has done the most for Brantwood. This year the Brantwood Prize is awarded to two students:

Nialah Sharifa Ferrer

John Robert Pfirrman

THE JOHN A. CAREY PRIZE is given in recognition of and appreciation for the 36 years of loving service John Carey gave to this School. It is given to that student who has contributed the most to the visual arts at St. Mark's and who has excelled in more than one art form. This year the Carey Prize is awarded to:

Willa Crocker Deeley

THE CARLETON BURR RAND PRIZE is given in memory of Carleton Rand, Class of 1946 and is awarded for excellence in journalism. This year the Rand Prize is awarded to:

Adam Felix Cimpeanu

THE COLEMAN PRIZE IN ENGLISH is awarded to that student, who, in the judgment of the English Department, has submitted the outstanding essay during this academic year. The winner of this year’s Coleman Prize is:

Jack Harrison Dewey

THE WILLIAM OTIS SMITH PRIZE FOR ENGLISH VERSE is given in memory of a member of the Class of 1907 and is awarded to that student, who, in the judgment of the English Department has submitted the outstanding verse during the past year. This year the Smith Prize is awarded to:

Kelly Frances McPartland

THE REDMOND PRIZE FOR ENGLISH NARRATIVE is awarded to the student, who, in the judgment of the English Department, has submitted the outstanding piece of narrative during the academic year. This year’s Redmond Prize is awarded to:

Dianyu Wang '14

THE FREDERICK A. CAMMANN MUSIC PRIZE is awarded to that student who demonstrates the most talent in musical theory and composition. This year it is awarded to:

Adam Felix Cimpeanu

THE J. STANLEY SHEPPARD MUSIC PRIZE is given in recognition of Stan Sheppard's thirty-four years of faculty service to the music program at St. Mark's and is awarded to that student who has contributed the most to the musical life of the school during the current year. This year the Sheppard Music Prize is awarded to:

Christine Lindsey Jay

THE WALTER IRVING BADGER PRIZE IN DRAMATICS is given in memory of Walter Badger's thirteen years of service to the St. Mark's drama program and is awarded to the member of the Sixth Form who, during his or her career at St. Mark's, has contributed the most to drama at the school. This year the Badger Prize is awarded to:

Daniel Michael Stephans

THE PHILIP GALLATIN CAMMANN SCIENCE PRIZE is awarded to a student who has excelled in more than one science course. This year it is awarded to:

Allegra Louise Terhorst

THE CHEMISTRY PRIZE is awarded to a student who has excelled in the study of Chemistry. This year it is awarded to:

Dianyu Wang ‘14

THE FREDERICK R. AVIS AND ANNA M. PLISCZ BIOLOGY PRIZE honors two revered St. Mark's biology teachers whose love of teaching and learning set examples for both colleagues and students. The prize is awarded to that student who by interest, curiosity, original thought, and practical application of ideas has acquired a better understanding of biological processes. This year the Avis-Pliscz Prize is awarded to:

Katarina Monique von Campe ‘13

THE ST. MARK'S PHYSICS PRIZE is awarded to that student who through original thought, practical development of ideas, and inspiring leadership has done the most for the advancement of the science of physics during the preceding year. This year the Physics Prize is awarded to:

Jonathan William Cox

THE JOHN SUYDAM MATHEMATICS PRIZE is given in memory of a member of the class of 1904 who taught mathematics here for many years. It is awarded to that Sixth Former who has done the best work in mathematics, having also studied physics. This year the Suydam Mathematics Prize is awarded to:

Adam Felix Cimpeanu

THE ROY IRVING MURRAY PRIZE FOR EXCELLENCE IN SACRED STUDIES is given in memory of a St. Mark's chaplain in the 1930s and 1940s. This year it is awarded to:

Amelia Cooper Ames

THE H. CASIMIR DE RHAM PRIZE FOR EXCELLENCE IN FRENCH is given in honor of a member of the Class of 1914. This year it is awarded to:

Kathryn Elstob Danielsen

THE JOHN RICHARD WHITE PRIZE FOR EXCELLENCE IN GERMAN is given in memory of a member of the class of 1899 who also taught German here. This year the White German Prize is awarded to:

Mimi Ann Gualtieri

THE PETER BRYCE APPLETON PRIZE FOR EXCELLENCE IN SPANISH was given by Francis Appleton, of the class of 1935, in honor of Peter Bryce Appleton, a member of the class of 1961. This year the Appleton Spanish Prize is awarded to:

Katerina Monique von Campe ‘13

THE HENRY P. KIDDER PRIZE FOR EXCELLENCE IN LATIN is given in memory of a member of the Class of 1914. Henry Kidder is also the grandson of the founder of St. Mark’s School. This year the Kidder Latin Prize is awarded to:

Katherine Lynn Ballen

THE MORRIS H. MORGAN PRIZE FOR EXCELLENCE IN GREEK is given in memory of a member of the Class of 1877 and for many years a professor of Greek at Harvard. This year the Morgan Greek Prize is awarded to

Alexander Orazio Santangelo

(Classics Diploma)

THE FREDERIC A. FLICHTNER PRIZE FOR EXCELLENCE IN HISTORY is given in memory of a member of the faculty for 35 years. This year it is awarded to:

Adam Felix Cimpeanu

THE GEORGE HALL BURNETT PRIZE IN HISTORY is given to commemorate the graduation in 1902 of a grandson of the founder. It is awarded on the basis of a special essay in American History. This year the Burnett Prize in History goes to:

Adam Felix Cimpeanu

THE ELY PRIZE FOR PUBLIC SPEAKING is given for excellence in declamation. Founded in 1890 by Richard Fenwick Ely and later endowed by his mother in his memory. The winner of this year’s Ely Prize is

Haomiao (Julie) Geng ‘15

THE JOHN AND ELIZABETH MUNROE PRIZE, first given in 1949 in memory of a member of the class of 1902, was renamed in 1990 to include his wife, a distinguished and inspiring figure in the field of social work. The prize is awarded each year, by vote of the faculty, to the underformer who has shown the greatest promise of intellectual leadership and who by his or her example has best fulfilled the ideals of St. Mark’s School. This year’s John and Elizabeth Munroe Prize goes to:

Luya Wang ‘14

THE ASSOCIATION OF ST. MARK'S SCHOOL PRIZE is awarded by vote of the faculty to that graduating Sixth Former who best represents the ideals of St. Mark's School and who, through his or her service to the broader community beyond the St. Mark's campus, enriches both his or her own life and the life of the greater School. This year’s Association of St Mark’s School Prize goes to:

Dae Yoon Grant Cho

THE CHARLES WILLARD BIGELOW PRIZE is given in memory of a member of the class of 1891. It is awarded for promise of character by vote of the faculty to the Fifth Former who throughout his or her St. Mark's career has shown unusual determination in all his or her undertakings and who has continuously been willing to go beyond the call of duty to get the job done. This year the Bigelow Prize goes to:

Samiat Bolatito Okoya ‘13

THE HENRY NICHOLS ERVIN SCHOLARSHIP is named for a member of the Class of 1936 who was killed in World War II. It is awarded by vote of the faculty to that student who best exemplifies the character of Henry Ervin who, while at St. Mark's, at Brantwood, at Harvard, and in service to his country, seldom missed an opportunity to do a kindness or lend a hand. This year the Ervin Scholarship is awarded to:

Clifford Herman Abrecht Jr.

THE PIERSON F. MELCHER PRIZE is given in honor of the founding Headmaster of the Southborough School and is awarded by the St. Mark’s faculty “to that girl who through clarity of expression, effectiveness of logic, and sense of community well-being best exemplifies the tradition and spirit of the New England town meeting”. This year’s Melcher prize is awarded to

Heather Marie Piekarz

THE DOUGLAS H. T. BRADLEE SCHOLARSHIP is named for a member of the class of 1946 who was killed in the Korean War. It is awarded by vote of the faculty to that student who best exemplifies the qualities of Douglas Bradlee. In the words of his Headmaster, what was special “was not so much (Douglas Bradlee’s) keen mind or his frankness or his manly physical courage or even his firm forthright moral courage; it was his spiritual strength." This year the Bradlee Scholarship is awarded to:

Jessica Chipo Maposa ‘13

THE DANIEL B. FEARING ATHLETIC PRIZES are awarded to the boy and girl who best combine athletic ability with good spirit, good team play and sportsmanship. This year the Fearing Prizes to go:

Catherine Sarah Moubayed

Eric Mitchell Dolan

THE HAROLD HAYES PRIZE, named for a member of the class of 1907, is awarded by vote of the faculty to the member or members of the graduating class who have been of greatest service to the school. This year the Hayes Prize goes to the Head Monitors:

Kathryn Elstob Danielsen

Eric Mitchell Dolan

THE WILLIAM G. THAYER SCHOLARSHIP FUND PRIZES were established by the alumni to honor the Thayers' first twenty-five years of service to St. Mark's. It is awarded each year to those students in each form with the highest academic average for the year. The recipient of the Thayer Prize from this year’s VI form is:

Adam Felix Cimpeanu

(The Thayer Prizes for students in other forms will be awarded at Convocation in the fall)

THE WILLIAM TOWNSEND WHITE SCHOLARSHIP is named for a member of the class of 1886. It is awarded by vote of the faculty to a deserving student based upon academic achievement. This year the White Scholarship is awarded to:

Katarina Monique von Campe ‘13

THE FOUNDER'S MEDAL, the school's highest academic award, is given in honor of the School’s Founder, Joseph Burnett, and was endowed in memory of Brigadier General Richard Townsend Henshaw, Jr., of the Class of 1930. It is awarded to the member of the graduating class with the highest academic standing over the last three years of his or her career. This year the Founder's Medal is awarded to:

Adam Felix Cimpeanu


Before I begin, I would like to thank everyone who helped the students graduating here today on their path: Our trustees and benefactors, selflessly serving the school, our staff for keeping our school beautiful and comfortable, our teachers and faculty, for their patience, wisdom, and constant guidance and comfort, and to our parents, to whom we (quite literally) owe our lives. Finally, to my twin sister Lindsay: You’re the Phineas to my Ferb, the Tintin to my Captain Haddock, the Mordecai to my Rigby. Contrary to what most people think, you are not the half that makes me whole. You are the whole that gives me a reason for life.

* * * * * * * * * * *

This is the end. And no, I don’t mean the end of your high school career. I mean the end. The apocalypse, the end of the world is here. Both the Mayan and ancient Chinese calendars predicted that December 21, 2012 would be the last day of Earth’s existence. But for me, this is the day I’ve been waiting for. I’m obsessed with the apocalypse. And trust me, I’m ready. I’ve watched every last episode of The Walking Dead. I’ve spent hours playing the Left 4 Dead video game, and I’ve been playing Half-Life since I was four years old. If you can’t tell by now, I really like video games. But if you know anything about surviving after the end of the world, you’d know it’s really all about preparation. I’ve already got a respectable stockpile of bottled water, shotguns, and pop-tarts ready in my basement, but what you can never underestimate in these situations is the power of knowledge.

So normally, there are two commonly accepted ways the world can end. There is either a nuclear holocaust that destroys everything and causes a nuclear winter (there are also usually some mutants thrown in for good measure), and then there’s my personal favorite: the zombie apocalypse.

Let’s face it: the nuclear holocaust scenario is probably the least fun. Essentially, you’re going to have to scrounge around for resources like a hobo, going for weeks on end without showering. There isn’t much excitement, unlike a zombie apocalypse. A zombie apocalypse plays down to our deepest desires, our most unbridled rage to take it out on hoards of empty-shells of former humans. Of course, the cardinal rule of zombie-killing is that you must use the most ridiculous melee weapon available. Sledgehammers, tire irons…guitars…a St. Mark’s science textbook. Yes, in a zombie apocalypse, only the toughest survive. But physical toughness doesn’t guarantee your safety. No, it’s mental toughness that keeps the undead at bay.

In this case, I am proud to say that each of you graduating today could now handle a zombie apocalypse. You have the knowledge to keep humanity alive. We are smart enough to take on anything, and I’m sure not going to let the end of the world stop me. Think: when the outbreak initially occurs, the mathematicians will need to figure out how long it will take until we all turn into walking corpses. So they’ll be employed for at least another week longer than the rest of us. Biologists are going to be in high demand trying to find an antidote for the zombie virus. Engineers will need to build tons of things: water purification systems and safehouses, in addition to salvaging whatever communications systems we have left. Really, there are some great job opportunities coming out of an apocalypse. But just like in real life, if you’re an English major, you’re pretty much screwed. But you know who will fare really well in the apocalypse? The boys’ cross-country team. If you can’t outsmart the zombie hoard, you might as well outrun it.

In fact, our culture is obsessed with the idea of the end of the world, but is just too ashamed to admit it. When the unthinkable is about to happen, we embrace it by fighting back. H.G. Wells’ radio broadcast of War of the Worlds convinced people that the end of the world had actually arrived, and that was back in 1938. Then came Dr. Strangelove in 1964, which centers on a nuclear apocalypse. The film was deemed so culturally significant that it was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress. If that’s not obsession, I don’t know what is. And what about the apocalyptic scenario in Planet of the Apes? Even St. Mark’s has done its part in apocalypse education. The Road by Cormac McCarthy is a literary rite of passage at this school.

But we can do better than merely existing in an apocalypse scenario. We can create better things from it. So why is everyone so averse to things going wrong? We need someone to put a little scare in us once in a while if it means we can make a change for the better. The great Depression, the Cold War, the oil crisis, bird flu, swine flu: it is only when we are on the verge of destruction that we find ourselves a way out of it. We develop better governments, better machines, better medicines only when we feel threatened. So I welcome the apocalypse with open arms. Innovation springs from fear. Apocalypse is our secret ticket to paradise.

So while St. Mark’s has given us the necessary tools to thrive in the face of apocalypse, it is also putting us at an ideological disadvantage. The school says we should be positive, and approach everything with good feelings rather than complaining about it. But optimism is a terrible philosophy. “Keep your heads up, don’t complain,” leads to subservience and dystopia, which is a million times worse than an apocalypse. Good things can come from fear and uncertainty. When things go wrong, it is the universe giving you another chance to make everything right.

The truth is, optimism requires very little thought. We can stumble around blindly telling ourselves that everything is all right, but that’s not how anything is going to get fixed. Spouting a slew of happy comments is just one step away from becoming, well…a mindless zombie. Remember, this is the apocalypse. You want to fight the zombies, not be the zombie.

But pure pessimism isn’t the way to go either. Sometimes, when things go wrong, it truly does feel like the end of the world. So allow yourself to feel badly about it for a while. But at some point, all of us must face the same terrifying question: what now? Yet it is only when we have found an answer to this question that we can achieve satisfaction. We create optimism out of pessimism, confidence out of uncertainty. True happiness is not being happy with where you are, but being happy with where you are going.

So even though our destination may in fact be the end of the world, it doesn’t mean we can’t be happy about it. In fact, National Geographic just reported this month that a new Mayan calendar has been discovered, which extends the doomsday prediction to happen over 7,000 years from now. How disappointing. If we live for the end of the world, think of how much progress we can make in just 6 short months. It is in the face of destruction that humanity regains its confidence. So let us regain our confidence. We are ready. We are ready to face anything, even the end of the world. Thank you.