Head of School Blog: Catullus, Canterbury Tales, and the Beauty of Traditions

On Monday afternoon, the BUA community gathered — some in the black box theater and many others on Zoom — for one of this school’s great traditions. Twelve students from across the grades stood up in front of their peers to deliver Latin and Greek declamations, channeling Homer, Solon, Sophocles, Cicero, Catulus, Livy, Virgil, Ovid, and even Queen Elizabeth I (berating the Polish ambassador in 1597!). They spoke with poise, passion, skill, and more than a little bravery. The reaction of the audience impressed me nearly as much — from the thunderous applause in the room for a student who fought through a passage that tried hard to evade her memory to the dozens of loving chat messages offering encouragement, praise, and heart emojis. And then, when the panel of judges stepped away to deliberate and choose the prize winners, another tradition reemerged to fill the time. Some juniors in the audience — with big smiles — recited the prologue of The Canterbury Tales, drawing on a long-standing sophomore rite of passage. That opened the door to more impromptu recitations: 51(!) digits of pi, the preamble to the Constitution, and snippets of classical declamations past. 

From its first days, BUA has been an unapologetically intellectual place — a place where curiosity is king, where the cerebral is celebrated. In the words of our mission, it is where students who love learning come to find challenge. And you’ll notice that we almost never speak about curiosity without mentioning its cousin: kindness. What we care about most is what kind of person a student is and how each of us contributes to this caring community.

Traditions remind us of who we are. This week’s declamations were a beautiful reminder of our twin commitments to joyful intellectual curiosity and to a community built on kindness, respect, and love for one another.

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