Saint Mary’s Hall added our newest members to the Cum Laude Society on Wednesday, April 26, 2023. The Cum Laude Society recognizes superior scholarship and is the independent school equivalent of Phi Beta Kappa. Seniors representing the top 1/5 of their class in academic achievement and who uphold the values of promoting excellence, justice, and honor are eligible for induction into the Saint Mary’s Hall chapter, as are new faculty with Ph. Ds or are already in Phi Beta Kappa.
The following new members were inducted:
Leo Cheong ‘23
Anatolio Cruz ‘23
Allyson Gibbs ‘23
Aly Khanmohamed ‘23
Jonathan Largoza ‘23
Catherine Mao ‘23
Grace Ogden ‘23
Alex Riebe ‘23
Jack Rykert ‘23
Elliot Strauch ‘23
Jonathan Tubb ‘23
Dr. Tunette Powell
This year’s keynote speaker was SMH Upper School Physics teacher Nick Polito, who spoke beautifully on “the space between.” With his permission, we share his words of wisdom here:
“Good morning, everyone! It's such a great honor to be here standing in front of such a fantastic group of students, my wonderful colleagues, and today’s honorees. I have to admit that I get really nervous presenting at events like this because I feel like my strengths as a speaker lie mostly in the realm of physics and astronomy. So physics and astronomy it is.
I want to talk to you about a picture. It's a picture that I believe holds special value, not just for me, but for humanity.
It was originally proposed and taken back in 1995 by the Hubble Space Telescope. What they did was they looked at a very small patch of sky within the constellation of Ursa Major, the great bear. If you went out on a dark night and looked at this patch of sky you wouldn't see anything there; they weren't focusing on one of those bright objects that we’re able to see on even the darkest of nights here on Earth. In fact, for some perspective, they looked at the amount of the sky you would see if you looked through an 8-foot-long soda straw. Imagine if you had a straw that long and you look up through it, are you going to see a lot of the sky? No! You're going to see about 1-24 millionth of the sky to be exact. Now because there wasn't anything there, they wanted to collect as much light as possible, so they used Hubble to look at this area over 12 days and ended up getting around 100 hours of exposure over a variety of wavelengths and trying to pick up as many photons as possible so that they're able to see even the dimmest of objects that might be in this space. But here is the thing, they did all of this not knowing what to expect.
Here is what they got.
This is the Hubble Deep Field. Since then they've taken other versions called the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, the Hubble Extreme Deep Field, and even a newer version with the James Webb Space Telescope. What's spectacular about this image is that outside of a handful of those bright spots, every other speck of light you see is an entire Galaxy, of which there are nearly 10,000. Those galaxies contain billions, hundreds of billions, and even in some cases trillions of stars…all in just this one 24 millionth of our night sky. On top of this, some of the galaxies in this image are around 13 billion light years away. That means the light from these most distant objects had been traveling to us for almost 13 billion years. This picture not only shows us the unfathomable vastness of our universe, but also allows us to peer back in time, to not long after the Big Bang.
You see, for thousands of years, humans have been captivated by the bright points in our sky – the stars, planets, and celestial bodies that have guided us, inspired us, taught us, and filled us with wonder. We’ve marveled at their brilliance, their mysteries, and their stories. But it wasn't until the Hubble Deep Field Image that we realized there was so much more to see – in that space between.
Just like in the Hubble Deep Field, as you are inducted into the Cum Laude Society, you are at a bright point in your academic journey. Your hard work, dedication, and achievements have brought you to this moment, and we celebrate your accomplishments with great pride and admiration. Seniors, you have 18 days of school between you and your high school graduation, another very bright point.
But let's not forget that it's the space between these bright points – the moments of growth, the relationships formed and nurtured, the struggles and challenges, the lessons learned in and beyond the classroom – where the true beauty and value of your high school experience lie. In my own life, the bright points of graduating from high school and college, marrying the woman of my dreams, the birth of my son, his first steps, and so on, are dwarfed by the immense beauty of all the moments I spent in between—making dinners, changing diapers, writing papers, grading tests, and going on dates—In retrospect, these are the moments that fill my life.
So, students, as you step forward into the next phase of your lives as members of the Cum Laude Society, or as high school graduates, with lives that will certainly be filled with many more bright points, I challenge you to continue to explore the space between – to seek out new experiences, to embrace challenges, to cultivate meaningful relationships, and to find beauty, value, and perspective in the moments that may seem ordinary, but are truly extraordinary. Thank you and congratulations.”