Letters from the Class of ’23: Cameron Woan


It’s hard to explain what being a student at the Latin School of Chicago means. In many ways, the Latin experience started off as the ideal school experience. On any given day, I’m able to drive to school and then walk through the beautiful park that serves as a backdrop to my day. From there, I go to class, into an environment where I feel truly at home, and then grab breakfast from one of three locations. That in itself is already completely remarkable. Add that to the fact that the classes I take are taught by people who genuinely care about me and their profession, and you have the recipe for a near-perfect school day.

One might assume that with all of these impressive amenities and brilliant learning resources that Latin would be near faultless. And you wouldn’t be completely wrong. I came to Latin in the fourth grade, following my sister who had transferred a few years earlier. I vividly remember my first days at Latin in Mr. Sheehan’s class. I was the only “new kid,” so Mr. Sheehan allowed me the privilege of being the first “couch potato” of the year. Mr. Sheehan’s room was full of chairs and one couch, and after each eight-day cycle, another student rotated to be the couch potato. But being the couch potato was the crown jewel of all the possible furniture-dwelling titles. The couch itself was a somewhat beat-up old brown thing that could probably seat two adults or three fourth graders. It had a unique smell, and if memory serves, it was almost soft. Not soft because the couch was intended to be soft, but soft because the material had been so lovingly worn by scores of fourth graders before me. It was just so comfortable, it felt so right to sit in.

My experiences sitting on the couch mirrored my initial impressions of the Latin School: a warm, inviting place where everyone was made to feel that they belonged. I attended my first convocation a few weeks into that school year. My classmates and I filed into the Moody Auditorium on a sunny early fall morning to hear Mr. Dunn kickstart the year with a speech and other formalities to begin the 2014-15 school year. I could be wrong in saying this, but I’m 90 percent sure that in his speech, Mr. Dunn mentioned that Latin was a community, that we were each an important piece of what made Latin so special, and that each of us had a responsibility to make every person feel like they mattered. I’m also pretty sure he read Invictus. In any case, that was my takeaway from that year. Latin was that special place that opened its doors to anyone and where nobody seemed discontented. That’s why I was so shocked when Mr. Sheehan announced to our class that he’d be leaving the school at the end of the year and that our class was to be his final class at Latin.

At the start of my fifth-grade year my friends and I went back to Mr. Sheehan’s class to relive the glory days of fourth grade, and maybe even sit on the couch or one of the waffle chairs. But what we found was a barren classroom. Whoever the new teacher was had completely flipped the room into what can only be described as a basic fourth-grade classroom. The magic of Mr. Sheehan was gone.

As I’ve advanced through the grades, larger and larger chunks of that initial magic have dissipated. COVID, survivors of Latin, and most recently the unionization of the teachers, who are the backbone of the community. Maybe it’s not the fault of Latin; maybe it’s the fact that one can’t see ugly truths as a 9 year old, or that as a younger student having a strong friendly relationship with a teacher isn’t as feasible as it is when you’re an 18 year old. Whatever the reason, I’m sad that the community doesn’t feel the same as it did on my first days in Mr. Sheehan’s classroom.

This isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy my time at the school, and it’s certainly not to say that I don’t have hope for the future of Latin. It is still a place filled with awe-inspiring students and especially awe-inspiring teachers. The people make the place, and the people can be happy only if they feel that they’re valued. My fourth-grade class was so special because Mr. Sheehan ensured that every student’s voice was heard and that everyone’s actions had real consequences. Everyone had a place and a time to sit on the couch. Maybe we should start by giving everyone a seat on the couch.