Written by Cassandra Stecker ’18.
As I enter into my final few months as a Baldwin student and reflect upon my thirteen years here, the extent of one of the lifelong skills with which Baldwin has equipped me has become especially striking: my strength in languages. I am lucky to have been able to study both French and Latin throughout my time at Baldwin, and this year, I have added Ancient Greek to my language course-load. To have the ability to study three languages simultaneously is a testament to Baldwin’s remarkable academics and course schedule. Plus, I did not have to sacrifice any other academic subject to accommodate this.
This past summer, I realized the value of my Baldwin French studies outside the classroom. As an intern at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, I spent my summer evaluating correspondence from the Pennsylvania Abolition Society during 18th and 19th centuries discussing and negotiating the freedom of slaves. Since (also thanks to Baldwin) history is my primary academic passion and my internship was entirely historical and archive based, I didn’t think that my knowledge of French would be particularly relevant to my tasks.
However, when I noticed that a significant number of documents I was tasked with were written in French, I readily accepted the challenge of translation. Since the Pennsylvania Abolition Society was closely allied with “La Société des amis des Noirs de Paris,” or “The Society of the Friends of Blacks of Paris,” most of the letters sent from the Pennsylvania Society’s Paris-based peer were written in French.
A little bit to my surprise, it did not take significant special attention for me to read and understand the French of which the letters were composed. In fact, the main problem I faced in understanding the letters was acclimating to the French style of manuscript writing. Another interesting challenge I faced was understanding the French Republican Calendar which the society used to date their letters. Since this system uses different months and monthly durations than the Gregorian Calendar, it was not always an easy task to match the Republican date to the Gregorian date.
During my internship, my passion for history intersected with the remarkable proficiency in French which I have achieved through Baldwin’s wonderfully effective French curriculum. To make use out of my academics in this way and draw from my knowledge in all sectors regardless of the constraints of different subjects, in my opinion, is the epitome of the Baldwin academic experience. At Baldwin, I learn for life, not for a grade or a class; the disciplines of history and French complement each other especially well.
As a junior, I participated in Baldwin’s French Exchange with Notre Dame de Mongré outside of Lyon, France. As a part of this trip, we spent a few days in Paris before heading south to stay with host families. I remember being avidly excited to visit the Musée de Cluny in Paris, one of the best Medieval collections in the world, because we were studying Medieval art in my Art History course. This year, we are read Simone Veil’s biographie Une Vie (A Life) in Advanced Topics French, which is a memoir about this French political figure’s experiences during the Holocaust. Last semester, I took an advanced topics history elective, the History of the Holocaust. Because I have a background in the Holocaust from my history course, I am able to further understand the events of Une Vie, and my French class collaborated with my Holocaust class to teach the history students about Simone Veil’s life.
It is remarkable that my class is able to carry on long conversations in French, both intellectual and conversational, with ease and precision. Yet, what is less obvious but equally as useful and incredible is the doors that my French knowledge has opened to me in all sectors. Who knew that making paper cup dolls in seventh grade French to learn about professions or reading Le Petit Prince in tenth grade French would be so important to unleashing the full potential of my academic endeavors in all of my subjects?