Latin Convention?

Members of Berkeley’s Latin Club traveled to North Dakota to compete in the annual National Latin Competition


TOGA TIME: Weston Poe ’22, Samir Saeed ’21, Mara Xiong ’20, Sarah McDaniels and Phil Dillinger (from left) dress in their best togas for the Roman Procession on the final day of the NJCL convention.


Roaring fans dressed in purple and gold shuffled into the stadium. They filed into the bleachers all while cheering at the top of their lungs. The stadium is packed with hundreds of students screaming as loudly as they can, waving banners and acting out coordinated cheers. While this may sound like a heated college sporting event, it is actually a general assembly at the National Junior Classical League (NJCL) Convention, an annual conference that draws hundreds of lovers of the Latin and Greek languages from across the country. Contrary to what one might believe, when self-proclaimed “latin nerds” congregate, they do not just sit around discussing whether the Romans preferred to read Caesar or Vergil, they also lose their voices at daily spirit competitions, enthusiastically sing karaoke and compete their hearts out at ancient Olympic sporting events.


The NJCL is an organization of middle and high school students enrolled in classical courses and has over 50,000 members from the United States, Canada and Australia. This year, Berkeley’s intrepid NJCLers traveled to the party capital of America (Fargo, North Dakota), to compete in academic tests, creative art projects and athletic Olympika games at North Dakota State University (NDSU). 


This year’s Berkeley attendees were Samir Saeed ’21, Mara Xiong ’20 and Weston Poe ’22. After arriving at NDSU, they prepared for a week of fun, friends and massive gatherings in the FargoDome stadium. Each morning after breakfast, hordes of students trek the grueling half mile walk to compete in the academic testing sessions which assess students’ knowledge of different aspects of the classical world, ranging from Greco-Roman mythology to Latin and Greek grammar to ancient customs and culture. Particularly brave students try their hand at the decathlon: a mega test that combines ten ancient subjects into one assessment. In the afternoon, the delegates gather in the FargoDome for General Assembly which always commences with the daily spirit competition, a 15 minute-long cheer competition where states compete for such coveted prizes as a huge flamingo pool toy, a magic set or even a T-Rex costume. As each hectic day comes to a close, every state meets for Fellowship: a time to recap the competitions, relax with friends and get mentally-prepared for the next day. 


Although the delegates are kept busy nearly every minute running from event to event, they always find the time to meet new people and form lasting friendships. One of Poe’s favorite aspects of the convention was the NJCL community. “Spirit competitions, state fellowships and general assemblies help to create a sense of community for all people present at the convention,” he said. One of the best and longest-lasting aspects of NJCL are the friendships you make during the week. Mara Xiong said, “The first time I went to Nationals, I barely spoke to anyone. As I went to more conventions, I grew out of my comfort zone and began meeting other people. Now, some of my closest friends are people I met at Nationals.”


The week always goes by in a flash. Before you know it, Berkeley’s team is having to say goodbye to old friends from past conventions and new friends from this year. Driving to the airport, they know that they will miss the spirit and community of the NJCL until next year. However, at this summer’s convention, they did not have to say goodbye to that community when they left campus. The plane back to Florida was packed with fellow NJCLers, and after realizing that they were all together again, they began to chant the cheers everyone knew so well, one last time, that is until NJCL 2020.