Stuyvesant Certamen Team Places First at Stony Brook University’s Classics Day Event

Recently, Stuyvesant’s certamen team participated in an event at Stony Brook University, where they placed first in all three divisions.

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Stuyvesant’s certamen team competed at the Latin certamen on November 17 at Stony Brook University, where they won first place in all three divisions: novice, intermediate, and advanced. The certamen, Latin for “competition,” was part of a larger event at Stony Brook called Classics Day. 

This year’s event was Stony Brook’s inaugural Classics Day, which offered a number of events ranging from a toilet paper toga contest—where students created ancient Roman togas out of toilet paper—to lectures by Stony Brook professors. Among these was the certamen, a trivia bowl tournament in which contestants were asked a series of challenging questions regarding Latin linguistics, Greco-Roman mythology, history, and culture. 

Six teams of students from the certamen team participated in Stony Brook’s certamen, competing against students from schools all over New York City. “At Stony Brook, all teams that competed—one beginner level, one intermediate, and two advanced levels—advanced to the finals, and Stuyvesant won all three levels by a healthy margin, competing against other NYC/Long Island-based schools such as Townsend Harris, Riverhead, and Bay Shore,” Latin teacher and certamen team faculty advisor Lance Tomas said. 

A week before the event at Stony Brook, Stuyvesant’s certamen team competed in Yale’s certamen, which followed a similar structure. Though the teams did not do as well at Yale as they did at Stony Brook, it helped them become accustomed to the competition experience. “It was a little bit stressful at the beginning. Using buzzers is scarier than you think it is, because you buzz, and then the whole room turns to look at you, and you’re like, ‘What if the answer is wrong?’ But once you get over that, it’s really fun,” freshman Alex Yuditsky said. 

Prior to the event, the certamen team held weekly meetings to prepare students by simulating the competition using past questions. “We always do a lot of practice certamina [plural for certamen] and also go over some of the concepts that’ll probably be tested [such as history or culture],” junior and co-president of the certamen team Dale Heller said. “We try to exchange all the knowledge, especially when doing practice certamina, so we could learn from remembering the answers. We mainly studied based on our specialties.” 

In addition to club meetings, students did a lot of independent preparation for the certamen. “I read The Song of Achilles the night before, as well as some other mythology books. My teammate Jada [Kim] was reading about all these diminutive cases and a bunch of other obscure, niche Latin forms,” Heller said. “They ended up being helpful, so that was great—same with me and my reading.”

Though the event mostly ran smoothly, there were some difficulties for the team. On the morning of the event, the certamen team was delayed for half an hour due to issues with the Long Island Rail Road. “When we went to Stony Brook, we had this whole big delay, so we just kind of chilled there at Penn Station,” sophomore Ting Ting Zhang said. 

Furthermore, despite the variety of fun activities Stony Brook had prepared, many students competing in the certamen did not get the opportunity to participate. “I did none of the activities for Classics Day at Stony Brook,” junior Jada Kim said. “I didn’t get to do any of the activities that were there or attend any of the lectures that they were giving because I was [busy doing] round two of the preliminary rounds, and I was scorekeeper for the first intermediate preliminary round.”

Aside from these challenges, Latin students who competed at Stony Brook remarked that certamen was a great social and academic experience overall that helped them connect with their community and learn more about their interests. “I think [certamen] is really fun because it bridges the gap between the actual studying for certamen and sharing a love for ancient cultures,” Heller said. 

Overall, members of the certamen team have been able to form close relationships with one another and enrich their knowledge of Latin as a result of the competition. “[Certamina have] been really fun because we get to practice Latin and things that are Latin-related—like Greco-Roman mythology, history, and culture—and that’s super fun and nerdy,” Kim said. “It’s also fun to compete and spend more time with the other people on [the certamen team] because we get to bond.”