Why Certamen Matters
Secretary Alan Zhang, Walnut Hills
Certamen has always been my favorite part of the JCL. It’s exhilarating, racing to
translate a sentence from a dead language, recalling a 2500-year-old battle, or reciting
even older mythological stories. To anyone else, the idea might seem ridiculous: what’s
the appeal in memorizing classical trivia? I don’t know if everyone else has figured it out
by now, but I really haven’t.
When I joined the JCL in the 8th grade, I attended every Certamen that I could. I
certainly wasn’t any good at it—I’m not sure if I got a single toss-up. Actually, it was very
disheartening: every lost round, every missed final, every question that “I totally
should’ve gotten right” just affirmed my burning mediocrity. Yet I continued to try—I’m
not sure why—and my year culminated in a 2nd place finish at State Convention. I was
surprised, to say the least, but I felt accomplished, and, for the first time in so long,
That feeling lasted for 5 minutes, until I watched Peter Hattemer destroy intermediate
finals, leaving no time for anyone else to buzz a single time.
I signed up for nationals in Indiana on a whim.
I decided that I would tryout for the Certamen
team, too (why not, right?). I was told that I should
sign up for castra, a Latin study program over the
summer, so I did. I did not know anyone there, and
my shyness delayed my acquaintance with them
for several days. Instead, I sat in a corner and read
through a study guide, alone. Sometimes, I looked
up and watched the big kids play rounds: they
answered incomprehensible questions as though it
were second-nature. I was amazed, wondering
whether I could be that good one day.
Eventually, I got to know my fellow castra
attendees. Joseph Delamerced taught me the
passive periphrastic; Tullus Dean outlined all of
Roman history to me; Caroline Klette lent me her
copy of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. Slowly but
surely, I became a part of the group. As my
knowledge about Certamen increased, so did my
Alan celebrating many victories he
ability to be myself.
acheived at Convention, including 1st
place in the Advanced Certamen finals