John Heaton (jheaton) wrote,
John Heaton

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The story behind the picture

The block* I took Intermediate Latin I, the professor announced we were going to do something new. Part of learning Latin is learning about the culture of ancient Rome, and that semester the professor decided we would concentrate on Roman politics. And to make it a sort of hands-on learning experience, we would actually recreate a Roman Senate election. One student would portray Cicero, another Catiline (both of whom were real historical figures who really ran against one another for a Senate seat in 63 BC). And it wouldn't be some sort of wimpy fake election, but a real honest-to-Zeus election, in which the student body and faculty would actually get to vote.

(* My alma mater, Cornell College, is one of three colleges in the United States that uses the "block plan." Under the block plan, students take one course at a time. Each class meets daily for two to four hours, for eighteen days. At the end of each block, students get a four-and-a-half day break. Students generally take eight to nine courses in an academic year, so it works out about the same as under a traditional calendar plan.)

Like all foreign language classes at Cornell, Intermediate Latin met twice a day, in the morning and the afternoon. One day, I found myself feeling kind of queasy after lunch, so instead of going to the afternoon session, I went back to the dorm to take a nap. Coincidentally, another student, Eric I believe his name was, also decided to skip the afternoon session. So guess what happened during that afternoon session? And guess who it happened to?

I was selected to portray Cicero. The rest of the students were divided and assigned to serve as our campaign staffs. The ground rules were simple. Campaign literature could contain English, but also had to had to say the same thing in Latin. Official campaign appearances by the candidates had to be conducted in authentic Roman garb. And we had to stage a public debate (in English, thank Hera).

The election would take place on the last Monday of the block and would be open to students and staff. Elections in ancient Rome did not follow the familiar American "one person, one vote" rule; there were three classes of voters, and their votes were weighted according to their importance in Roman society. Students were chosen to represent the lowest class. The faculty and staff represented the middle class, whose votes were worth twice as much as those of the lower class. As for the highest class, the elders, we decided to be clever. On Mondays, the college sponsored a senior education program called Chautauqua. Since the election was going to be held on a Monday, we decided the Chautauqua participants would be the elders. Their votes would be worth four times as much as the student votes.

The campaign was more fun than I expected. I enjoyed campaigning in my toga, and my staff and I had a lot of fun designing bilingual campaign material. I'm proudest of a poster I made with help from my friend Joni, who was taking a Russian course that block; it contained no English at all, only Latin and Russian. We got the Russian wrong, but it was still cool.

I did not do well in the debate, and Eric was somewhat better known on campus than I, so my candidacy might have been in trouble had not my campaign manager Nick suggested I make a special effort to win the votes of the staff and seniors. On the morning of the election, I made one last campaign appearance. Before class that morning, I stopped in the lounge where the Chautauqua class was held and introduced myself. I explained the project, and encouraged them to stop and vote when they broke for lunch.

After lunch, we tallied the votes. Eric won a slight majority of the student votes. I narrowly carried the staff. And I won all but one of the Chautauqua votes, which gave me a comfortable margin of victory. Woo hoo!

And what did I get for winning the election? Nothing, really. Satisfaction. And a funny picture. That counts for something, I guess.

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