By Alex Cornacchia, Contributing Writer
Northborough – Amol Punjabi wasn’t exactly thrilled when he heard that he would have to take Latin in sixth grade, a class that the Advanced Math and Science Academy Charter School (AMSA) in Marlborough makes mandatory for all of middle school.
“I thought: ‘Okay, I would really prefer to take a language that, you know, is being spoken today,’” he recalled.
To talk to Punjabi now, five years later, you would never guess that he had any initial reluctance. He went on to passionately pursue Latin of his own volition, and today speaks about the language and classics in general with a genuine enthusiasm.
So why the change of heart? Punjabi credits his first Latin teacher, Nancy Sinacola, with inspiring in him a love of Latin.
“She had a really innovative curriculum, which I really liked. She taught Latin like a conversational language,” Punjabi remembered.
In her class, Punjabi found that there was life in this subject that many consider dull, or even dead. He was fascinated by the logic and intuitiveness of the language, as well as the connections that could be made between the modern world and that of Ancient Rome. When Sinacola introduced the class to Certamen, a competitive game in which participants must quickly recall facts relating to the culture, language and people of classical civilizations, Punjabi took to it immediately, deciding to join AMSA’s Latin Club in order to learn and compete even more.
It was this decision that led Punjabi to the 2011 National Junior Classical League (NJCL) Convention. Held every summer at the end of July, the convention is a week-long gathering of middle and high school students from around the country who are enrolled in classics courses. They come together to take part in academic, artistic and athletic competitions, along with a variety of social activities.
The 2011 NJCL Convention was an exciting one for Punjabi. Not only did his team win the national Novice Certamen Competition, but he had also discovered a group of peers who shared in his passion for the study of classics.
“It was an amazing experience,” Punjabi said. “You would think there wouldn’t be that many Latin enthusiasts at the high school level.”
Punjabi has returned to the convention every year since that first summer, with plans to attend in 2015. This year, though, he’ll be returning in a new capacity: as the editor for NJCL.
The role of the editor is to write for, edit, format and publish “TORCH: U.S.,” the official quarterly magazine of NJCL. The publication goes out to every JCL chapter, as well as all attendees of the NJCL Convention, acting as a way to keep everyone abreast of the organization’s various activities.
“It’s a really exciting job,” Punjabi remarked.
One of Punjabi’s challenges this year will be transitioning “TORCH” to an entirely digital format: his term will be the last one in which the publication appears in print. Although Punjabi is a little bittersweet about that fact, he also sees it as an opportunity to make Latin and Greek more widely accessible.
“I really think it’s an important thing to bring classics into a modern medium,” he noted.
In a recent issue, Punjabi wrote about how people in Ancient Rome and Greece understood music and how we understand it today. In the spirit of the teacher who originally inspired him, the article highlighted connections between the two times, bringing the world of the ancients to life.