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20 seniors join Cum Laude Society, DA's highest academic distinction
Posted 05/25/2017 03:36PM

Twenty Durham Academy seniors were granted membership in the school's chapter of the Cum Laude Society — the highest academic honor that the school can bestow — on Monday. The distinction is made in recognition of students' grades, strength of academic schedule and contributions to campus intellectual life. 

Seniors who were inducted into Cum Laude on Monday were Elizabeth Aldridge, Isaac Arocha, Ethan Astrachan, Samantha Baker, Nick Beischer, Katie Concannon, Alice Dempsey, Madi Dunk, Olivia Hall, Campbell Hannan, Stillman Hanson, Natalie Kim, Sam Kim, Virginia Marr, John McCubbin, Tristan Ramage, Bryce Saba, Adam Ushpol, Chris Villani and Julie Wechsler.

The inductees represent about 20 percent of the graduating class.

Upper School Director Lanis Wilson opened the ceremony by congratulating the inductees on meeting Cum Laude’s high standards and acknowledging the sacrifices they made along the way. 

“When others chose to put away their books, these students highlighted one more chapter or struggled with one more practice problem or labored with one more revision of an essay. When social media beckoned, they resisted the temptation and continued to burn the midnight oil, studying while others slumbered,” Wilson said. “At Durham Academy, the academic competition can be fierce, so to be here tonight is a testament not just to intellect but also stamina and determination and dedication … truly virtue in extremis.”

Also addressing the audience of students, parents, siblings and faculty members were McCubbin and English teacher Fran Wittman.

McCubbin congratulated his fellow inductees on their achievement and reflected on the dedication and hard work that led them all to Monday’s ceremony. The joy of pursuing knowledge has been a highlight of his time at DA, McCubbin said, telling the story of a lesson he learned during a particularly busy time of senior year.

At the conclusion of Thanksgiving break, he recalled, he was concerned that he’d enjoyed himself too much over the long weekend and was heading into the week feeling overwhelmed with the thought of the work ahead. But then, upon reading Wilson’s weekly email to students, McCubbin learned that the Upper School director had also spent much of the break relaxing — but rather than fretting over the work to come, he “embraced the approaching chaos,” recharged and ready to take on the week’s challenges.

“With my newfound pearl of wisdom, I was able to cut through the sullen vicissitudes of needless delay and approach what I needed to do with a sense of confidence and the knowledge that getting through it would only make me a smarter, better individual,” McCubbin said. “Those next three-and-a-half weeks up until winter break constituted some of the most fun I have ever had as a high school student, and I was actually disappointed when there was nothing left to do.”

With their days as Durham Academy students coming to a close and their new lives as college students drawing closer each day, Wittman urged the Cum Laude inductees to make a conscious effort to appreciate the here and now.

When she was a new high school graduate, she was all too eager to leave her picturesque Minnesota hometown, she recalled, and she wasn’t making the most of the little time she had with her family and friends. Then, she got a wake-up call when she crashed her Ford Escort into her mother’s farm truck, right in her driveway.

“If you think about it, in some ways it was like a big karmic flashing neon sign saying slow down — figuratively and literally,” Wittman said. “And I kind of had to because I no longer had a car, but it did force me to realize that I was missing out on a really important time in my life. … I would encourage you all to slow down and relish this time. Be present. Soak in the experiences with your friends and family and savor the excitement about college. Don’t get preoccupied, because you only get this time once — so appreciate it.”

Wittman noted that the Cum Laude Society — now an international association comprising 382 chapters — was founded more than 100 years ago with three virtues in mind: “Areté, which translated means excellence or virtue, or kind of a blend of both; Diké, meaning justice; and Timé – meaning honor.”

Those virtues provide can something of a guide book for the new members, she suggested.

“Be excellent to each other, find your role in life and use it to enable others to find and fulfill theirs, and be mindful of your human obligation and act when you can,” Wittman said. “There aren’t many groups of teenagers to whom I could confidently say go forth and do this, but looking at those who are seated in the first row here tonight, I’m feeling pretty optimistic.”

View more photos from the Cum Laude ceremony on Flickr.

An independent, coeducational day school, pre-kindergarten through grade 12.
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