125 Debunked

Aidan Sarazen

My friend from Lincoln Park High School asked me about Latin’s 125th anniversary. He was wondering what was so special about the number 125. Before I could answer that question, I had to ask him how he knew that it was Latin’s 125th anniversary. My friend responded, amused, “anyone who ever sets foot within a mile radius of the school can see the new design on the outside of the building that screams 125 in every direction.” He added that he had also seen numerous bus tails advertising Latin and its 125th anniversary. I guess I was foolish to ask. My friend then asked me a question that caught me off guard: “Why is Latin celebrating its 125th anniversary?” In my mind, I chuckled at the simplicity of the question. I told him that “Latin has been around for 125 years. That’s enough in itself to deserve a celebration.” Later, however, I began to reconsider the meaning of my answer to my friend’s question. While Latin being 125 years old was undoubtedly a tremendous feat, was a picture of the entire school spelling out ‘125,’ the fly-by of a plane, a parade, and advertisements on bus tails  really the way to celebrate? More importantly, did Latin community members feel like these celebrations were worthwhile and effective?

For Latin students and parents (but mostly parents), the most bothersome question was whether or not the money for the parade, advertisements, painted facade, and 125 picture came from tuition. From a Latin student’s Facebook post about the bus advertisements reading “Is this what we are paying for?” to conversation in the hallways questioning where the money came from to organize the parade, it was clear that Latin’s 125 celebration was under heavy scrutiny. I asked one student (she wanted to remain anonymous) about how she felt about the Latin’s initiative to celebrate the school’s 125th anniversary. She told me that “although I think painting the outside of the school was a good idea, I think that the bus tails are kind of wasteful.” Later, this student gave me more detail, as she said that the advertisements on the buses are “over the top.”  Along with many other students, she agreed that the 125th anniversary seemed to be more of a fundraising stratagem than an actual heartfelt commemoration.

While nobody doubts that Latin is doing more than just celebrating its 125th anniversary by advertising on bus tails, many understand Latin’s motivation to do so. Ms. Hennessy, a beloved history teacher at Latin, spends a lot of time on the CTA and is not surprised that the school is advertising on bus tails. She has recognized that advertising on public transportation has become “a trend among private charter schools in Chicago.” While Ms. Hennessy acknowledges the fact that these advertisements aren’t actually for celebrating Latin’s 125th anniversary, she believes that they are necessary for Latin to “participate in the competitive, admission-based school scene in the city.”

The 125 parade also sparked some controversy. Many students, mostly Juniors and Seniors, found that the parade, in taking a half day of school away, made the following week even more stressful. One Latin Junior, who wanted to remain anonymous (he told me that he didn’t want to be known for “raining on the parade”), commented that during the parade he “felt like he was just standing around doing nothing for too long.” He then went on to tell me that because classes were cancelled, teachers ended up “cramming assignments into the next week.” However, some held completely different opinions on the parade. Ms. Hennessy thought that the parade was a “fun, active way to spend the afternoon.” She also added that “anything to help students and teachers relax and take a break from the hustle of life at Latin” is definitely worth the effort.

While the wide range of opinions on Latin’s 125th anniversary are interesting, they don’t explain the motivation or the tactics used that made the anniversary commemoration transpire. Shelly Greenwood, Latin’s Assistant Head of School for Advancement, had a leading role in the planning and conduction of the celebration. It is important to note that any fears of extra tuition money being used for the parade and advertisements should be quelled. Ms. Greenwood assured that the money for the bus tails comes from the school’s “existing advertising budget.” Not only are the advertisements not being funded by extra tuition, but according to Ms. Greenwood, bus tails are “a very cost effective way to increase awareness of Latin and the 125th anniversary.” For the parade, another celebration that seemed to many Latin students and parents rather extravagant, was also not funded from extra tuition. The money for the parade in fact  came from Latin’s operating budget. To make it clear that the school was trying to avoid extravagance, Ms. Greenwood offered examples of economic awareness. The parade was planned to be in the park to avoid closing streets and bothering neighbors. Additionally, Ms. Greenwood told me that they purposefully “used the Lincoln Statue as the grandstand rather than renting equipment” to cut costs.

The purpose of the parade, however, is more important than the cost. The motive behind the parade was to celebrate Latin’s history, as well as its future. On top of just standing for a commemoration of a great milestone, the parade was meant to bring the lower, middle, and upper schools together. Ms. Greenwood noted that because of “the school’s physical configuration, we don’t have many opportunities to gather as one community.”

Although many Latin students, faculty, and parents are skeptical of the purpose and effectiveness of the 125th celebration and its advertising, it should be realized that none of the funding for the commemoration created a tuition spike. More importantly, however, Latin’s 125th anniversary celebration is not trying to cheat students and teachers out of class time. Rather, it is meant to honor the Latin’ past, present, and future, while offering the entire community an opportunity to come together.