HOW WE WROTE THE 2011 CUM LAUDE POEM
As I started in to write the Cum Laude address for 2011, it occurred to me that no one (in my memory, anyway) had written a Cum Laude poem
, and that since Don Connor, chairman of the Trinity classics department and director of the Cum Laude program, always drew an epigraph from The Aeneid
to frame the ceremony, I realized right away that it was a poem that I wanted to write. I thought I had a good idea for the structure, too—simply a list of memories. Twenty-four years at Trinity had left me with a lot of them.
Then I realized that this wasn’t my
Cum Laude moment, it belonged to the students. I had taught a number of them over the last four years, and sometimes we had collaborated on the fold-down, pass-the-paper poems that are so much fun. It occurred to me in a flash: why not write this poem together? Let them jot down some of their recollections, I’d mix in some of mine, and perhaps we’d have an interesting poem. At least, I thought, it would be a poem that would be in large measure their
To my delight, all of the students responded, and I quickly knocked together the poem, a rather long one. For the record, here’s most of what I wrote to the Cum Laudeans to get our collaboration rolling:
I have an idea that I hope will interest you in regard to the talk that I am scheduled to give at your Cum Laude ceremony next week. Why don’t we collaborate? By which I mean, let’s write this speech together, let’s write it as a poem to which we’ve all contributed. What do you think?
My intention would be to focus on memory and leavetaking, since we will all be departing from Trinity at the end of this school year. And I mean to define “leavetaking” in the happiest sense, though there’s no reason to leave out twinges of regret.
Here’s how we could shape the poem.
Each of you can write as many lines as you want—no rhyme, no regular beat. (This is free verse.) The lines can be long and loose (for those of you who know Walt Whitman’s poetry), full of memories, full of the little details that only you remember from your years at Trinity. They can also express what you are leaving behind you, bright moments (some of which might have to do with your studies), sad moments, or simply memories that you want to leave as markers in time.
I will be contributing my own lines to the poem, perhaps threaded in with yours. And I will do the editing work of pulling the poem together. In proposing this collaboration I would like you, us, to leave behind a poem that you might want to reread in future years, just the way we enjoy paging through old yearbooks. But in our poem the “pictures” will be the images brought to us by words, so I encourage you to write “for the eyes,” as Aristotle says the best writing does.
Here is the poem. I—we—hope that you enjoy it!
The following poem was written by Bill Zavatsky and the senior honorees of 2011: Isabelle M. G. Aubrun, Daniel Ben-David, Beatrix P. Chu, Katharine C. Cook, Eric J. Dober, Catherine C. Gamble, Nicholas C. Hennessey, Halley P. Kay-Kauderer, Rohan N. Kirpekar, Hannah A. Kronenberg, Taylor O. Lane, Ethan Lowens, Ruby L. Mellen, Oona Morris, Parinaz Motamedy, Nicole M. Quattrocchi, Benjamin N. Rosenblum, Hannah M. Sherman, William Tse, Michael D. Wachter, Amy L. Weiss-Meyer, and Thomas Weng.
The Cum Laude Poem, Trinity School, 2011
I leave behind the silver water fountain on the “English Corridor” that I’ve only drunk from three or four times,
I’ll remember that student tour leaders often told visitors that the cross in the Chapel actually was a “T” that stood for Trinity.
On September 11, 2001, Cliff White ran into Room 116 in his flaming red hair and gasped, “A plane has crashed into the World Trade Center!”
All of us thought it was a tiny airplane that somehow had gotten lost by accident among the downtown skyscrapers. How wrong we were.
I always loved the silence in the halls when classes were in session and I had a free period and a hot cup of tea.
One year after graduation, congratulating seniors and parents on the turf, I hadn’t worn a hat and got a terrible sunburn.
Once upon a time there weren’t any windows on the first floor of the Hawley wing. Then in 1991—note to myself to check the date—the graduating class made a gift that allowed windows to be cut in that room.
Soon windows followed in all the classrooms and in the swamps. Somebody told me that it cost ten thousand dollars to cut one of those windows through the brick.
I was writing an article about how students could write poems based on their dreams, and went back to an early version of this idea that I had written up in 1977.
I hadn’t looked at the piece in a very long time, and started to read the short dream poems that students had written at a school in Pelham, New York, where I worked as a visiting poet.
One of the dreams popped out at me. I could hardly believe it when I read the name of the third grader who had written it. The name was “Jimmy Cifelli.”
When I showed the poem to Mr. Cifelli, he was astounded. “Yes,” he said, “I did go to the Hutchinson Elementary School in Pelham. I don’t think there were any other Jimmy Cifelli’s who went to that school.”
He had no recollection of the class, but we were both amazed at the coincidence—or was it a coincidence?
Have you viewed the famous Wall of Shame put up by Ms. Muniz over the years, composed of hilarious student quotes? Want to know how it got started?
She hadn’t been at Trinity very long when one day Ms. Muniz staggered into Room 116, slammed her books on her desk, and cried out: “I have a Harvard degree, and I’m telling kids to sit down and shut up!”
All of us broke into laughter, and I had a brainstorm. “You should type that up and stick it on the wall!” I exclaimed. She did, and that’s how the Wall began.
One day in community time a very sweet and gentle man visited us to talk about peace and love non-violence. It didn’t take much to see that many students had fallen into a coma.
Later that morning students were complaining to Mr. Tobin, their Latin teacher, about how boring the speaker was.
“Well,” said Mr. Tobin, “I had to take required courses in graduate school taught by professors who were so boring that they made our visitor this morning look like Mick Jagger!”
There are lots of other things that I remember, but here, ever so subtly, I turn the poem over to the Cum Laude recipients themselves. One writes:
I will never forget the days I sat in the swamp after school,
spending hours talking to friends
who also could not bring themselves to head home.
We were here for the 300th,
the year that we sat on the Upper Gym floor every morning
While the Chapel was re-pewed and painted white.
I remember the floor being very uncomfortable.
Ad hoc breakfast bagels kept me going.
Within these white brick walls I started to know myself. Have I succeeded? Am I
We saw through the school’s three-hundredth
We watched work begin on the chapel
And watched work stall on the chapel
And watched work stumble on the chapel
As we sat in the stuffy Upper Gym
Where Dudley Maxim’s lighting was slow to light
And announcements were given in the dark.
Then the Great Day arrived
When we entered our new sanctuary
our new communal space
our new . . . whitewall chapel.
Al Gore and his green speech was the most color in there.
At the end of our Freshman Orientation
The wizened headmaster asked us pre-frosh
To write him letters.
Letters of our fears about high school
Letters of our feelings and dreams.
My letter contained a second envelope
labeled “DO NOT OPEN UNTIL 2011”
Inside was a graduation gift.
Dr. Moses has since passed on.
Does anyone know where my letter is?
I remember little handprints on the American flag, the imprints of tomorrow’s promises and today’s hopes.
The shivering bodies standing in alphabetical order, cheering on blaring sirens,
The way he paused dramatically and then proceeded to read the first chapter of a Harry Potter book,
The impossibility of making it to the top of the Llama Park’s pyramids,
The possibles, probables, and already happeneds of morning assembly
When I think back I will always remember
The color-coded stairs that were so hard for me to maneuver,
Which so perfectly matched the color-coded schedule that blew my mind
Until I learned to understand them both.
In years to come the questions asked and the answers given will linger with me,
And I will smile to remember the friendships made and the challenges overcome.
As a freshman, I wasn’t the person I am now, sitting by the swim lockers, waiting for the only other two people that didn’t know how to swim.
Four years is a long time to sit by the red staircase, observing the frantic students rushing late to Biology.
There we all are, smiling for the camera: the illustrator, the cellist, the filmmaker, the martial artist,
back before there were futures silhouetted on the horizon, and we had to grow.
I lived in the MIDI Lab for that first spring, convinced that I would write a musical that would be performed senior year.
Some friends have migrated with me over the years, and some have searched for higher ground.
I am still holding the fort, but soon my position will be inherited by those who never knew me.
And those who miss me will soon pass by as well, onto a greater part of their life, and I into a greater part of mine.
I don’t think I’ll ever meet these kinds of people again. I know they will remain a part of me forever.
Mr. Isaacson and I once argued over the true identity of Iago for an hour and a half.
Mr. McCarron shook my hand after I commended him on a speech he gave about pursuing your dream.
Ms. Miller only caught me unprepared once. She let me redeem myself later in the class.
Mr. Inaltong taught me that sometimes two plus two does not equal four.
Mr. Peppiatt threw the ammeter that I short-circuited across the room. It landed perfectly into the trash.
Mr. Morehouse recognized a kind of struggle inside of me that I have been ignoring for years.
Mrs. Bonsignore’s first year was my first year as well. We both remember it with fondness.
Mr. Zavatsky taught me everything I need to know in life, all through the lens of Kate Chopin.
All will be missed, and all will be remembered, and cherished in my heart.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget the heaping pile of ice cream sandwiches in the rectangular freezer,
wrapped in a silvery paper that crinkled as I extracted my treat whenever ice cream was on the menu.
It might not be a good lunch, but it would sure be a good dessert!
I will leave behind my reflection in the bookcase in the hallway, you know the one, where the Upper School office is.
I guess it’s not just my reflection, but everyone’s. A quick tug
at her skirt, a hasty ruffle of his hair—gotta look good, gotta dress to impress.
I will miss the unrestrained ripple of joy I experienced each of the precious few times
I got the call saying “Trinity School will be closed due to inclement weather”—an official way to say
SNOW DAY, WOO HOO! Thank you, Trinity, and thank you, snow, for preserving in me, for much longer
than anyone expected, the gleeful child within.
I’ll leave behind a group of students as excited to learn as to have fun, a group that learned. They are one and the same.
At Trinity I learned to learn.
I can describe my school as I would my parents: nurturing, wise, encouraging, and stern: Trinity is my home to the West.
I’ll leave behind teachers who’ve been left times before
Who’ve seen students come and go
Whom I first approached with fear and reluctance
And now I leave endeared, reluctant.
I will always remember Ms. Muniz, the loving pedagogue who taught me how to think and guided me as she introduced me to myself.
I remember walking into the swamp freshman year and knowing no one; some things never stay the same.
I hope to leave behind a jumbled throng of teenage boys singing a capella together, filling the confined halls with melody.
I will leave behind the table in the senior swamp, scratched and bruised with time, haphazardly covered with the signatures of my classmates.
I hope to leave behind a lacrosse trophy and a team worthy of Coach Munoz.
I remember holding the candles as we walked proudly down the aisles of chapel,
My head held high in honor.
I remember sloshing through the marshes of Calf Pasture Beach,
The water slopping into my oversized galoshes as we searched excitedly for crabs.
Picnics and square dances, Halloween parades and pancake days,
Chess clubs and oily stickers, flutophones and Pokemon cards,
Mice on Motorcycles, Whangdoodles and Wars with Grandpa
50 Nifty United States, Dream Catchers and Drinking Gourds.
I remember “Roses and Cobblestones,” the Trinity Tones, and singing out:
“Where will the days all go, when we’re all grown up?”
What time remains for each of us
Is spent in hopeful wandering,
Pursuing the work of virtue.
I will always remember walking down the long hallway thousands of times, my countless footsteps getting bigger, my clothing changing from uniforms to t-shirts and my mind expanding with knowledge and experience.
I will never forget my twelfth grade Baldwin class, sitting quietly and awaiting the screams and yells from Ms. Muniz as she trotted down the hall, her presence drifting down the hallway and filling our classroom even before she entered.
I will continuously look back and remember that dark and cold library carrel that sat in the far right corner of the quiet room, the carrel I began to call my own in the long and never-ending eleventh grade season of work.
I leave behind my friends and teachers, all members of my Trinity family and each one filling an void that seemed to reside inside my soul, their memories, wisdom, and love remaining forever in my heart.
I will always remember the verdant expanse of the “turf” soaked with rain and play.
A haven for the athletes, we abuse its worn hide daily, giving it no rest.
A place of joy and energy, hidden amidst the rigor of “Labore et Virtute.”
I remember pretending to study in the quiet section of the library while I actually slept.
I leave behind my locker that I never used. It will be missed.
I will miss breakfast for lunch, my favorite breakfast and my favorite lunch.
In years to come I will always think of Trinity when I see Redbull in a grocery store.
I’ll miss Mr. McCarron, the wisest person I know, who taught me that teachers can also be friends.
I will miss skipping gym class. I hereby apologize to my future heart condition
In years to come, I’ll think of the sunny calm of the “quiet room” in the library.
I’ll miss smiling at and waving to all my old teachers as we pass each other in the crowded halls.
What would Trinity be without teachers’ and students’ endless criticisms of community time speakers?
I’ll never forget sitting in physics class on a grey morning in May and hearing shouts in the hallway. I looked out and saw people skipping. Juniors were crying. Someone shouted, “Finals are canceled!”
I leave behind the swamp, an area that knew how to keep me sane during junior year.
I leave behind my locker that I’ve shared with three of my friends since freshman year.
I leave behind the turf where I knew I would find myself on every day after school.
I leave behind the cafeteria where I seemed to eat tuna every day.
I leave behind the Upper Gym where I encountered more losses than wins.
I leave behind the quiet section of the library that I never seemed to be quiet in when I was there.
I leave behind the Wiffle Ball games that seemed to die down as I got older.
I leave behind Mr. Pagonis, the man who never stopped surprising us every day that we walked into class. He taught me that teachers could also be friends, too, and that I should probably watch the movie Citizen Kane
I leave behind the 1980s boom box that kept the swamp alive with jams during free periods.
I leave behind the card box that I never seemed to use (sorry, Ms. Williamson) because I always left my ID card at home.
I leave behind the Subway where I always got free chocolate chip cookies because the lady behind the counter loved us Trinity kids so much.
I leave behind the Lower Gym and the many pounds of weight I lost due to the combination of a Coach Bolster workout and the hundred degree air.
I leave behind orange day and Room 204, the place where ninth graders actually taught me something about myself.
I leave behind every ad-hoc where half-toasted bagels and butter dominated my time.
I leave behind the only place that has a cross and yet is more Jewish than any other religion.
I leave behind the place where talking to a guy like Mr. Morehouse can help you change whatever wrong is going on in your life at the time.
I leave behind a place where temperature changes like the blink of an eye.
I leave behind a place that I would pass with out-of-school friends who would say, “Hey, you go to a school in a prison?”
I leave behind a school that has taught me that even though weeks might look like they’re never going to end, they do, and before you know it you will miss those no-windowed classrooms that once you wished didn’t exist.
I will always remember the first snowfall of the year, wide eyes of students peering out the windows of their imprisoning classrooms, the wave-like hubbub in the swamp, the giddy anticipation of a glorious snow day.
The day finals were canceled in tenth grade will remain in my mind’s eye: the image of dancing, screaming, elated students, and Ms. Palmer struggling to calm the ruckus.
I recall the sensation of my entire face submerged in a pail of water as I bobbed for apples on Halloween in Ms. Lemons’s fourth grade class.
The progression of field days will stick in my mind: how I loathed them early on, then how they grew on me, how they changed, and how I wished they had stayed the same.
I liked to run my fingers against the wall as I walked through the halls, and I liked to see others do the same.
I leave behind the library couches, which were always a good place for a quick catnap on a stressful day.
I’ll miss our ritual jaunts to D’Ags and Starbucks to begin our mornings.
I’ll always remember cooking ten pounds of pasta to feed fifty hungry swimmers at our pasta parties.
In years to come I will always be thankful for the education and opportunities which Trinity provided me.
I’ll always cherish the friends I made here at Trinity, whom I believe are the best in the world.
What was at first such a strange and frightening place to me has, after four years, become a second home. The passage of time at Trinity has made what was originally uncomfortable, familiar.
I remember my first class at Trinity, Algebra I with Mr. Lu, a class where I made friends that I have been inseparable from since.
I’m going to miss freshman year English classes in the Berlind Garden, where numerous chapters of Of Mice and Men
came to life.
I will always remember the feeling of being a senior, and having the privilege of walking through the swamp unafraid.
I recall the tennis team, and the matches that lasted until nine o’clock on school nights. The late bus rides home were bonding experiences I will never forget.
I will always remember the in-depth conversations Mr. Peppiatt and I had about all things squash.
I will miss the chocolate chip cookies in the cafeteria dearly.
I will always remember getting blown away every morning while walking down 91st Street towards Columbus Avenue, the coldest and windiest block in the city.
Although some assemblies were somnambulistic, I remember others that kept my attention for a full forty-five minutes, such as the musical performances featuring the New Lost Faculty Ramblers.
I will never forget the friends I made and the teachers I forged relationships with at Trinity. The four years I spent growing and maturing at this institution will never be forgotten.
I’ll remember lines of students winding around the Chapel, ready to sing or jump or toss or joke in front of the whole school in order to entice participants to attend their upcoming event.
I’ll leave behind the club fair and the sense of the innumerability of the possible paths my experience at Trinity could take.
I’ll remember the Wednesday morning when Will Holland and Casey Feldman’s rock band performed and how I thought it was amazing that I went to a school where my day could start with that.
I’ll remember the Friday morning when the second floor was flooded and all Upper School classes were postponed, and the sense of excitement in a Swamp consequently filled with the whole school.
I’ll leave behind the incomparable feeling of exhilaration when finishing an American history test and knowing that I was able to show how much time and care I put into learning the material.
I’ll remember the Friday morning when Dr. Simpson and other men in dark suits stood on the chapel stage to tell us that Dr. Moses was very sick. And I’ll remember telling my mom that I felt safe in those men’s hands.
I’ll remember my first homecoming when I shouted so loudly that I lost my voice and the realization that I loved my new school and that I had become a part of it.
Walking into school on a cold morning, greeted by hot chocolate and the warm faces of friends, the worries of winter kept outside the protective gates of Trinity.
Countless hours spent with friends inside and outside of the classroom. Every second accounting for a priceless memory.
I’ll remember walking through the swamp at five p.m. after sports, almost able to hear the echoes of the voices that whispered, talked, and sang during the school day.
I’ll remember the time I descended the orange staircase as a freshman, and the forbidden thrill I felt trespassing into the upperclassmen’s territory.
I’ll remember the austere black iron bars on the windows that served as a barrier between us and the elements on those gray rainy days.
Walking into Trinity the first day of freshman year, I was overwhelmed by the masses of strangers.
The senior boys looked like forty-year-old men, and it seemed like a senior girl was old enough to be my mother.
I was terrified of making new friends; I hadn’t had to in eleven years.
I befriended one girl at orientation; luckily, as it turned out, that was all I needed.
Friends at Trinity came as a package deal. You couldn’t become friends with one person without falling in love with her best friends and their best friends.
From that day forward, Trinity became my comfort zone.