Two members of the class of 2020 were inducted into the Cum Laude Society on Thursday, February 20, joining three others who were named previously.
Seniors Maron Salame and Justin Cheng joined classmates Nick Wolanske, Kevin Tu, and Jamie Meindl in Cum Laude at an assembly of Upper School students and faculty in Baker Theater.
Academic Dean John Booth presented the awards, and Jaime González-Ocaña, chair of the Modern Languages and Classics Department, gave the keynote address.
González-Ocaña’s remarks focused on one of the backbones of the Western canon, The Iliad, and the epic poem’s two great heroes.
Achilles and Hector offer two different models of masculinity, González-Ocaña told students, and when he was a young man, Hector was a hero to him much more so than Achilles.
That changed as he grew older and came to understand Achilles better, he said, especially given the ending of the poem and Achilles’ encounter with Hector's father, Priam, who confronts Achilles to ransom Hector’s corpse.
One of the key moments of the poem occurs in Book 17, when Achilles lends his armor to his friend Patroclus before he goes into battle. Mistaking him for Achilles, Hector then kills Patroclus. Achilles goes into a great rage, during which he kills Hector and mutilates his corpse.
“Achilles, full of guilt and grief, goes berserk,” González-Ocaña told students. “Full of vindictive rage, he is savage beyond the limits of civilization.”
By the end of the poem, “a magical transformation takes place.”
Priam confronts Achilles to ask him return his son’s body: ‘I have gone through what no other mortal on earth has gone through/I kiss the hands of the man who killed my children.’
“Then in front of that grieving father, Achilles, the ruthless killer, starts weeping,” González-Ocaña explained. “He thinks of his own father, knowing that he will never see him again. He shows compassion: ‘I give no care to my father as he grows old and I bring nothing but sorrow to you and your people …The heart in you, Priam, is iron,’ he says — meaning, of course, strong and resilient.”
González-Ocaña said The Iliad has been one of his passions since he studied Greek in 12th grade. Later, when he was studying for his Master’s Degree, he did his linguistic thesis research on Book 6.
González-Ocaña said the question of two masculinities of Hector and Achilles is a kind of falsehood.
“While you think about it, I'll tell you — the question, of course, is a trap,” he said. “I now identify with both — I am both, and so are you. We are all the combination of forces pulling us in different directions.”
Founded in 1906, the Cum Laude Society is dedicated to honoring scholastic achievement in secondary schools. In the years since its founding, Cum Laude has grown to 382 chapters.
González-Ocaña congratulated the newest Brunswick inductees, and dedicated his talk to them and to the 26 Upper School students who take two or more languages, and in particular the four seniors taking Latin and Greek.
Another Cum Laude assembly is planned for May.