Foreign language department inducts students into honor societies

Members of the foreign language faculty inducted students, who had completed the Advanced Placement course in their language, into honor societies for Chinese, French, Latin and Spanish at the Foreign Language Honors Assembly on Tuesday, May 21. Four seniors also received awards for their long-term excellence in each of the language programs, and the senior Latin award has been named the Paul Chenier Award.

Foreign Language Department Head Margot Riemer began the assembly by introducing the foreign language teachers present at the assembly and praising the students’ progress in their study of languages.

“Your presence today is already indicative of your commitment to learning,” Riemer said.

Middle school Chinese teacher Kun Li began the induction by reading in alphabetical order the names of the students studying Chinese as a foreign language. Chinese teacher Binbin Wei handed each student a certificate as they walked up to the stage.

Before the induction of the French Honors Society, all of the French students stood and recited a pledge of dedication to the study of the French language. French teacher Geoff Bird announced the names of the students while French teacher Marilyn Shield greeted them with the certificate.

Latin teacher Derek Wilairat addressed the Latin students before reading their names, congratulating them on their progress.

“You have come upon, seen and conquered much of Latin grammar,” Wilairat said. “By taking Latin, you have ensured the continuity of a cultural legacy for over 2000 years.”

The Spanish students also recited a pledge before their induction. Middle School Foreign Language Department Head Melissa Strong announced the names of the students as Spanish teacher Joaquin Fernandez-Castro handed certificates, greeting each student with a hug.

Wei described the winner of the senior Chinese award, Arianna Lanz ’13, as a “great young lady who has not just done an outstanding job learning the language, but is also positive and polite.” Wei recounted her experiences teaching Lanz both at the middle school and upper school, also citing the difficulties of learning a language so different from a native language.

“She wanted to do everything perfectly, so I was very happy when I learned she was going to take Chinese,” Wei said. “After she started studying Chinese, I came to see how determined she was to rise to the challenge. She just kept trying her best, doing whatever she could to improve her Chinese. I believe this was a reflection of her positive attitude and passion for learning a new foreign language.”

French teacher Simona Ghirlanda stressed the importance of words, such as commitment, passion and obsession. Ghirlanda explained how the meanings of these words become relevant by how we use them in society. She then introduced the senior French award recipient, Annie Wasserman ’13, as a child who “reinvents words and uses them appropriately to describe her labor of love for French.”

“Obsession is how she herself defines her interest in this language,” Ghirlanda said. “If this is not the definition of commitment, passion and obsession we don’t know what is.”

Ghirlanda said that Wasserman became committed to her study of French language, and culture, even involving herself in courses that she was not formally enrolled in.

Chenier spoke of the difficulties of studying Latin that senior Latin award recipient Josh Lappen ’13 had overcome in his completion of the curriculum.

“The grammar can be torturously complicated; even the terminology frightens,” Chenier said. “The readings you do are relentlessly dense and serious- civil wars, the loves of the gods, the trials of heroes—that’s what you read about. You’ll spend many long nights with old venerable books. Even the new books aren’t new.”

However, Chenier also cited the numerous benefits of the study of Latin as a language that not only allows you to appreciate words, but also to adore them. He recounted Lappen’s visits during the summer to discuss the writings of Julius Caesar.

“He received no credit, no fanfare, and there was no point to it, except to talk about Caesar because the opportunity was there,” Chenier said. “This is what makes this young man special. He is blessed with the rarest of desires, the desire to grow for growth’s sake. I don’t know if you can teach that.”

Chenier concluded his speech by remarking how people have described Lappen to him as an old soul.

“I think that’s right,” Chenier said. “And an old soul is exactly who should be studying an ancient language.”

Spanish teacher Roser Gelida concluded the senior awards by explaining the process of learning a foreign language, starting with basic memorization of words and ultimately understanding and analyzing literature and texts. Gelida remarked that the recipient of the senior Spanish award, Jordan Elist ’13, was a distinguished student who understands all the aspects of studying a language.

“As my student this year in AP Spanish literature and culture, he demonstrated superior language and analytical skills in understanding meanings,” Gelida said. “Most importantly, he was able to grasp the personal experiences and ethical complexities behind each work of literature, and connected them to the cultural and historical context.”

Gelida talked about Elist’s trip to Barcelona, Spain, to promote community service to Spanish high school students.

“This is for sure one of the best examples of relating language to the world outside of the classroom,” she said.

Head of School Jeanne Huybrechts thanked all of the foreign language teachers for their service to the school.

“Our world languages department is nurtured lovingly by a world class faculty,” Huybrechts said.

Huybrechts also announced the senior Latin award had been endowed in honor of Chenier and now will be known as the “Paul Chenier Award.”

Spanish teacher Javier Zaragoza concluded the assembly by promoting the annual issue of Foreign Outlook with Wasserman, the magazine’s editor. Copies of the magazine featuring student writing in foreign languages as well as international photography were distributed at the assembly.

“You should be proud of your dedication,” Riemer said to all of the students. “Learning a language can one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.”

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