Cum laude replaces valedictorian at Senior Awards Banquet

The verdict is in.

As of Monday, May 20, the decision on whether the awards of Valedictorian and Salutatorian were to remain for the Providence Academy graduating class of 2013 were made. In a private meeting the Friday before, Upper School Director Dr. Kevin Ferdinandt gave the power of the decision over to the six senior students who held the highest academic GPAs.

They were presented with a unique opportunity: either they could keep the awards of Valedictorian and Salutatorian, or they could opt to relinquish the awards, simultaneously losing the opportunity to gain them themselves.

Dr. Ferdinandt asked them to consider the proposition, discuss the situation with their parents, and then reply by email with their vote by Monday. A two-thirds majority was needed for the prolongation or abolition of the awards, and four out of the six students voted to dissolve the awards of Valedictorian and Salutatorian.

There will be no Valedictorian or Salutatorian at this year’s graduation.

Providence Academy, along with the abolition of Valedictorian and Salutatorian, is implementing a new awards program immediately this year. The awards of cum laudemagna cum laude, and summa cum laude will be awarded to students whose academic successes have earned them recognition. They are based on meeting certain class and GPA specifications.

At this year’s senior awards banquet on May 29, 19 students graduated “with honors.”

Cum laude were Alex O’Neill, Charles Christianson, Nick Bohlke, Eric Richelson, Susanna Trombley, Mackenzie Braun, Kasia Paprocki, Laura Clark, and Rosie Simonse.

Magna cum laude 
were Greg Morey, Charles Warner, Maxwell Baird, Margaret Clipperton, Joe Heck, and Ashlen Hagelberg.

Summa cum laude 
were Nicholas Heise, Julia Hengel, Clare Burns, and Patrick Gage.

According to Dean of Students, Mr. Michael Tiffany, the implementation of these three brackets of awards would be to “reward them for trying their hardest the entire time”.

The criteria that accompanies the cum laude award is that one has to have a high GPA, or if the student is not a math or science student so they are barred from honors courses, then they must have strong grades in the humanities as well as a high GPA.

A student must have taken at least six honors classes to be awarded the magna cum laude and eight honors classes to be awarded the summa cum laude. All along with impressive cumulative GPAs.

According to Headmaster Dr. Todd Flanders, the introduction of the new awards will be beneficial to Providence Academy, rather than the “zero sum game” he spoke of in The PAW’s last meeting with him on the issue.

“We don’t want anybody here to graduate with hard feelings,” said Dr. Flanders.

The other reason behind the change was a perversion of student vision. That is that students would work in Upper School primarily for the award, perhaps missing out on other extra-curricular opportunities and advancements.

The approach PA has taken is more democratic, appealing to the students, and even though the Valedictorian and Salutatorian positions would surely have been abolished for the graduating class of 2014, it would immediately affect the Seniors of 2013.

“We think we need a clear majority to say we’d like to suspend those,” Dr. Flanders said. And a clear majority was what he had- four out of six of the top academic students voted to abolish the awards. However, other students present at the meeting, such as Clare Burns ’13, feel disappointed with the results.

“I understand why they’re doing it, and I guess I would support it next year, but I don’t think it’s fair that they dropped it on us this year,” Burns said.

The six seniors were given this proposition a week before school ended, making the possibility of a substantial change quite sudden.

Several other award winners were recognized at this week’s awards banquet. Kasia Paprocki and Max Baird received the Fine Arts awards; Ryan Tapani and Nathalie Ratliff, the Athletics awards; and Patrick Gage and Ashlen Hagelberg, the highest awards of Faith Knowledge and Virtue.

Upper School Student Council Constitution

As of now, the upper school student council plans to construct a constitution. - Tone Deinema
As of now, the upper school student council plans to construct a constitution. – Tone Deinema

With a new year underway, and a new set of Student Council members soon to assume their positions, it was time for a constitution to fully establish the organization’s rules.

“Student Council has worked for the last two years composing a constitution,” said Mr. Edward Hester, one of the council’s advisors. “The constitution was approved two weeks ago and sent to the Deans’ Council for the final approval process. It will codify and formalize the workings of the council and more clearly define how the council would represent the student body.”

Mary Whiting ’15 has been involved in student council for three years.

Whiting said, “The constitution really only pertains to the council, with the basic information about member qualification, meeting protocol, the structure of the council and some of the duties and responsibilities we have.”

Meghan Onserio ’15 has participated in student council for four years.

“There has been a lot of work, time, and effort put into into it in the past few years, and I’m hoping that it will get ratified very soon,” said Onserio.

Katharine Crockett ’16 said, “The constitution gives current and future student council members a set of guidelines to refer to if any issue arises. It’s important to have in a student government.”

Overall, the constitution will help confirm the duties of the council so it can continue to represent the student body.

Matt Birk gives graduation commencement speech for class of 2013

Super Bowl champion, Harvard graduate, Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award Winner. Former Minnesota Vikings player Matt Birk has a long list of accolades to his name, and now he gets to add another: Providence Academy Graduation Commencement Speaker.
Super Bowl champion, Harvard graduate, Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award Winner. Former Minnesota Vikings player Matt Birk has a long list of accolades to his name, and now he gets to add another: Providence Academy Graduation Commencement Speaker.

While the crowd on Friday night wasn’t quite the size of the one Birk appeared in front of three months ago at the Super Bowl, the Great Room was still packed full of students, teachers, and parents as he walked to the podium to give the 2013 graduation commencement speech.

“You made it,” he began. “It was a long hard road, there were times that you wanted to give up, but you made it.” He paused, then smiled. “I’m talking to the parents, of course.”

Then Birk proceeded to give a ten-minute long, inspiring address to the PA graduates of 2013, focusing on how to live a faith-filled life in a world where faith is tested on a daily basis.

“The fact that he was a professional athlete and is also a serious Christian – he’s a two for the price of one,” said Upper School Director Dr. Ferdinandt, who collaborates with Headmaster Dr. Todd Flanders each year to select the commencement speaker.

The story of how Matt Birk agreed to be the commencement speaker for PA’s graduating class of 2013 is an interesting one.

“He and I connected last summer,” said Dr. Flanders. Birk had been at a NET banquet that Dr. Flanders had spoken at before, then the two met again at a Religious Liberty Rally outside the federal courthouse in Minneapolis last June, where they were both speakers.

The two were standing together after their speeches at the rally when Dr. Flanders brought up the topic of speaking at PA graduation.

“I said, ‘ So, Matt, have you ever given a commencement speech?’ and he said no. So I asked if he would ever want to. He said, ‘At PA? Yes.’ And then I got his email and formally invited him later that night,” Dr. Flanders recalls. “He’s a tremendous guy and I really think he embodies faith, knowledge, and virtue in a distinct way.”

A commencement speaker for Providence has guidelines of speaking for 10-12 minutes and have a theme that is “inspiring in nature,” said Dr. Flanders. Other than that, Birk was given no restrictions or speech topic.  Even with minimal direction from the PA administration, Dr. Flanders was certain that Birk would deliver an outstanding and relevant address simply based on his character and experiences.

From going to a Catholic high school, to attending Harvard, to playing professional football for more than a decade, “he’s a guy who’s been through a lot of life experience,” said Dr. Flanders. “But more interesting still is his commitment to faith, family, and civic life. A guy like Matt Birk in no way confuses fame, fortune, and position with the real stuff, and his virtue lies therein.”

While Birk clearly embodies Providence’s motto of “Faith, Knowledge, and Virtue,” students also felt he was an intelligent, clear speaker who was easy to understand and gave good advice.

“He was really funny and easy to relate to,” said Paige McAuliffe ‘14, who attended the ceremony.

Part of this may come from the fact that Birk graduated from a Catholic high school in Minnesota just like the PA graduates. He attended Cretin-Derham Hall, a school very similar to Providence. In fact, one of Birk’s favorite experiences in high school is one that PA athletes engage in too: praying as a team before a sporting event.

“Before football games we would pray as a team,” said Birk. “I think at the time I took it for granted…Looking back I think that’s special. Faith is a powerful weapon. To be able to pray with my teammates…you think you’re pretty cool, you put on this macho bravado, but it’s great to get down on your knees and humble yourselves before God.”

And now, after having been through the Catholic high school experience himself, he has advice for Providence graduates as they move on in life to college and future careers.

“Find really good friends, friends that have a desire to grow in their faith and live the faith,” he said. “That way you can support each other and challenge each other in your journey.”

Birk also recommends something that helped him in his own life: finding an older person as a mentor to be able to see what a godly person looks like, a person who is the “ideal of what you want to become someday.”

As was the theme in his speech, Birk says that becoming a faithful person is a process, one that involves a lot of hard work.

“I’m very lucky,” he said. “Unfortunately, I fell away from the Catholic church for a while but getting married and having children brought me back to it.”

For others who struggle with confusing the material world with what Birk considers the more important things in life he gives this advice:

“We can get in the Word every single day… You have to be consistent with it, you have to make it a priority. That’s how you grow stronger in your faith.”

This prevalent faith component of Birk’s life is one of the main reasons the administration approached him about being a graduation speaker. He may be a former NFL football player, but he is also a serious Christian and a virtuous human being who Dr. Flanders and Dr. Ferdinandt thought would be an inspiring role model for the graduating seniors.

“One thing I’ve come to know for people like Matt Birk is that sport is about life, but life clearly is not about sport,” said Dr. Flanders.

And it’s true. By most standards, Birk is very much a regular guy, although his imposing 6’4” stature did stand out amongst the crowd of graduates in the courtyard after the ceremony. He stayed to meet the graduates, talk with them, and take pictures like the many parents and faculty who attended. At home he himself has six children, who he loves to impress with his talents that aren’t necessarily football-related.

“I can juggle, my kids get a kick out of that,” he said. “I dabble in magic too…I like doing things where little kids are like ‘whoa’,” He laughs. “It’s only a matter of time before they figure out that they’re smarter than me but I enjoy it.”

While Birk’s own character is enough of an example of how he advises others to live life after high school, he also summed it up well in the conclusion of his address with a powerful wish for the class of 2013:

“My prayer for you is this: Let your dreams be bigger than your fears, your actions be louder than your words, and your faith be stronger than your feelings. God bless.”