Offices & Resources

Cum Laude Society Honors Students at Annual Ceremony
Cum Laude Society Honors Students at Annual Ceremony

On Tuesday evening, May 7, the St. Mark's chapter of the Cum Laude Society held its annual induction ceremony. The entire school community attended the event in the Putnam Family Arts Center's Class of 1945 Hall.

Members of the Cum Laude Society from the current VI Form are: Colin Capenito, Alex Cardonick, Jae Yoon Cho, Jiwon Choi, Megan Christy, Luc Cote, Haley Dion, Laura Drepanos, Grant Gattuso, Nicola Hartmann, Filip Kierzenka, Jiawen Li, Rwick Sarkar, Yi (Leo) Xie, Matt Walsh, Yuchen (Amy) Wang, Qianqian (Selina) Wu, and Rosanna Zhao.

Membership in the Cum Laude Society is granted to students who have consistently shown academic promise by vote of the faculty who are members of the St. Mark's Cum Laude Society. The St. Mark's Cum Laude Society is made up of faculty members who were Cum Laude at their high school, Phi Beta Kappa at their college, or elected by the Cum Laude Committee.

At Tuesday night's event, Richard Zhang '21 and Stephanie Moon '19 performed a Mendelssohn piano trio along with Mr. Ilya Kazantsev of the St. Mark's Music Department.

St. Mark's Senior Teacher Rick Umiker, president of the St. Mark's Chapter of the Cum Laude Society, made welcoming remarks and awarded the certificates. Classics Department Chair Jeanna Cook presented the history of the Cum Laude organization. History Department Chair Katharine Millett was the featured speaker (see her address below).

Current members of the St. Mark's Cum Laude Chapter are Lauren Ames (Science & Athletics), Jacob Backon (Math & Science), Yue Cao (Math), Margaret Caron (English), Jeanna Cook (Classics), Marion Donovan (Librarian), Colleen Finnerty (French and History), Peter Glomset (English), Christopher Kent (English and Theater Arts), Lindsey Lohwater (Science), Sarah McCann (English), Katharine Millett (History), Barbara Putnam (Art), Richard Umiker (Math), Channing Warner (Admission), and John Warren (Head of School).

Below is the text of Ms. Millett's Cum Laude address.

First and foremost, I want to wish a heartfelt congratulations to the Cum Laude inductees being celebrated tonight for their "academic excellence". Having taught a good number of them, I can personally attest that these are extremely bright, capable, and accomplished young adults. They are a joy to be in the classroom with, and I want to thank them for raising the bar of intellectual discourse, profound scholarship, and critical curiosity in all the spaces they inhabit here.

These students have clearly "done school" quite well. Their high grades showcase that they have learned the core content and skills of multiple disciplines in the course of their years at SM. Contrary to popular belief, however, grades are not the sole factor in consideration for cum laude. In our committee discussions of students, we bring up what the numbers alone don't show -- how challenging and diverse the course load of each student is, how much a student demonstrates intellectual leadership or provides a positive model for his or her peers, how these students "show up" in their Saturday courses, how they make the most of their Lion Term experiences, and what they do with their extra-curricular time.

The definition of academic excellence, the Cum Laude Chapter Manual says, is, "left to the discretion of the individual chapter", "in accordance with the philosophy and policies governing...individual schools" . That means we get to decide! So....I'd like you to take a minute to close your eyes; think about how you would define Academic Excellence here at St. Mark's. What does it look like, and how do you recognize it?

I think we could, and probably should, spend a long time hearing all of your answers, but that will have to wait to another day (I don't have hand mics, and I'm sure you don't want to be here all night!). But DO consider taking up this conversation with a friend, a monitor, or with faculty in the Academics office and the Center. Your opinion matters, because you and your academics are the heart of this school. We, the faculty and staff, are here FOR YOU and for the purpose of making academic excellence achievable for each and every one of you.

Tonight I want to offer my perspective on Academic Excellence that is perhaps slightly different than some others you may have heard or assumed. I believe that there are several areas of the school's educational program that are often overlooked, underappreciated, or even excluded when people think of academics - namely, the Saturday Program, Lion Term, and the Arts - and I'd like to make a case that these are actually critical to St. Mark's academics and to what makes these students honored tonight particularly Excellent.

Mr. Camp, who will be taking over next year as Director of Experiential Education, once remarked to me that, fundamentally and most simply put, St. Mark's seeks to teach students both how to "do School" and how to "do life". So concise, and so true! I have heard from many alumni, and hopefully you upper formers agree, that SM prepared them well to "do school" here and in college. You learn how to listen, how to take notes, how to remember, how to think critically... to deduce, to write, to calculate, to present. These skills are of great value. Immediate gains include higher grades and test scores, which may yield more options for college or scholarships. You will likely be more successful in college as a result, or in other contexts where information is being delivered to you, or you need to deliver information. Ultimately, school is one of life's situations, so in that sense 'doing school' and 'doing life' are not wholly distinct. Learning how to navigate school successfully, within the parameters provided, is an important life skill. The potential harm is in thinking that all of life is similar to school; that good grades or high test scores translate perfectly to success in other meaningful arenas.

Life outside of school, (from what I have heard, since I've experienced very little of it) is a bit different! Life is full of possibilities and questions, with fewer 'answers' (almost none of which can be categorized as just "correct" or "incorrect"). Life is not walled into disciplines. Life is messy, problematic, beautiful, scary, thrilling. Life is relationships and careers, community and independence. Success in life will look different for different people, and preparing for it is therefore not as obvious as picking up a review book or doing retrieval practice.

This is why interdisciplinary courses, experiences off-campus, and the fine arts are so critical to your education here at St. Mark's. On Saturdays and in Lion Term, outside the pressure of grades and exams, students can "get messy", mix mediums, explore big questions like "is time travel possible?" or "what is love?", network with professionals in various fields, and try and fail and try again. In the arts, there is no "right answer", and in fact, multiple answers, multiple lenses, multiple approaches are valued and encouraged. The arts teach us how to face a blank page and to follow our instincts, how to work with others in concert and not against them in competition, how to find beauty in the mundane, and communicate complex emotions. These are true LIFE SKILLS that will serve you well wherever you go next and indeed help you to conquer the problems you encounter in school as well.

It therefore should come as no surprise that our Cum Laude recipients this year include the lead in the Fall and Spring plays, multiple members and the co-President of the Jazz Ensemble, the first flute and trumpet players, five members of the school musical, a filmmaker, several Saturday class creators and Teaching Assistants, and five Lions Roamers. It is no coincidence - academic excellence is defined by and made more attainable through engaged work outside of the traditional classroom.

Experiential education and the Arts, with their messy problems, lack of "right answers" and opportunities for reflection and self-expression have been shown through research done by Harvard's Project Zero to increase students' abilities to learn from mistakes and make better critical judgments. A 2008 Dana Foundation report demonstrated improvements in attention and memory retrieval in students exposed to more Arts, and several studies have concurred that well-designed experiential learning results in enhanced reasoning capacity.

Now... no one is expecting you to solve all the problems of the world right now... but are you learning to solve problems? No one is expecting you to join the Peace Corps and partner with NGOs on service projects tomorrow... but are you learning how to partner? No one is expecting you to give a TED talk to millions of viewers immediately... but are you learning how to communicate? The answer is, unequivocally, yes. You're doing these things in all your classes - in Red block and Blue block, on Saturdays and in Lion Term. You're doing it in the dorms, on the athletic fields, and in your extra-curriculars. The variety of these configurations is an asset -- you're making connections with more of St. Mark's' fantastically, wildly awesome educators; you're diving deep and covering breadth of content; you're working in labs, around Harkness tables, on mountain tops, and with local organizations. No matter where you end up -- this summer, next year, in five years, ten or twenty, you will need to be able to solve problems, to partner, and to communicate. I want to be very clear that I do not see Monday through Friday courses, or the quote/unquote "core" academic disciplines as oppositional or even separate from what happens on Saturdays, in Lion Term, on the stage, or in the studio. On the contrary, I see them as essentially intertwined and mutually-reinforcing. On a structural level, our schedule allows students to pursue math competition, robotic engineering, theatre, public speaking, and biology, among other pursuits, on Saturdays. Additionally, our faculty is incorporating more and more problem-based learning, collaborative projects, and creative expression in their Monday through Friday courses. Ever more frequently, we see students who pursue Lion Term plans based on interests sparked in other areas. Next year's graduates will be the first ones who have had both Lion Term and St. Mark's Saturdays as part of their academic program all four years. You are the first to see in practice how much experiential learning can enhance your SM education. You will be the first to demonstrate how much better you can "do school" and "do life" in the years to come because of it.

In closing, I challenge you all to embrace the wider definition of academics that St. Mark's has cultivated on your behalf. I sincerely hope that you will all appreciate, as much as possible, the value of all the many facets of your St Mark's education. I challenge you all to be an integral part of the ongoing refining of the definition of academics and academic excellence at St. Mark's. To those in the room who think this night is not for them, that Cum Laude just isn't in the cards, I remind you that school only lasts so long; with any luck, life will last a good deal longer and will be all the more rich thanks to the experiences you engage with here, the relationships you build, and the skills you pick up along the way.