Perfect Latin test score puts student in top ranks

June 21, 1994|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,Sun Staff Writer

Many high school students would be content with a 3.96 grade point average and a 1250 Scholastic Assessment Test score, but not Virginia Duff, who recently earned a perfect score on the National Latin I exam.

Virginia, a Dulaney High School junior from Phoenix, correctly answered all 40 questions on the standardized test and became one of 751 students worldwide to achieve a perfect score. The exam was taken by 86,000 students from nine countries.

The 16-year-old is believed to be the first Dulaney student to accomplish the feat.

"Whenever these students make the perfect score, it's never a fluke," said Dawn Mitchell, her Latin teacher. "They never just guess through it. It's a strong test, and the people who made the perfect scores are strong students."

Although Latin has regained admirers in recent years, Ms. Mitchell said the once dominant but now dead language is perceived by many students as being useful only for SAT preparation. And it has a long way to go before it becomes popular enough to compete with French and Spanish.

That did not deter Virginia from enrolling in Latin I in September after four years of French. She said she took up Latin to help with terms she would need in studying veterinary medicine after college.

But Virginia said she never imagined she would get a perfect score on the National Latin Exam.

"I thought I did pretty well," she said. "I knew the information on the test, but I didn't think I got 100. I figured there had to be some place where I messed up."

Ms. Mitchell, credited by Virginia as being her inspiration, encouraged all her students to take the exam -- about 60 did -- but no push was needed with Virginia.

"I wouldn't have let her not take it," the teacher said.

The exam tests knowledge of Latin grammar, Roman history, and culture and mythology. One section requires students to translate a reading passage and to answer questions on the translation.

Virginia said she prepared for the exam by joining the school's Latin Bowl team, which is supervised by Ms. Mitchell and competes against schools from Maryland, Washington and Virginia.

Two months ago, Dulaney's Latin Bowl team defeated 10 teams to win a contest at Notre Dame College.

In March, she learned of her perfect score on the Latin exam.

"I was very happy just because I had conquered a national test," Virginia said. "I had done something no one had done before, and that made me feel good."

Dulaney Principal Thomas Hensley immediately sent a note to the county school board recommending her for special mention at a board meeting.

"It's certainly a great honor to have her recognized on the international level," Mr. Hensley said. "It not only speaks well about Dulaney, but also about Baltimore County schools."

Virginia is interested in more than ancient languages. She's a member of the Environmental Issues Club and a contributor to Sequel, the high school's art and literary magazine. She also is a member of the National Honor Society.

She said her friends sometimes give her a hard time about her academic achievements, including the 1250 -- out of a possible 1,600 -- she earned on the SAT toward a goal of attending the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a member of the National Honor Society.

"My friends tease me all of the time," she said. "It's nothing special. I think they're happy for me."

At home, she isn't Virginia, the Latin whiz; she's Virginia, the daughter and sister.

Her father, Frank Duff, is a program manager at Allied Signal and her mother, Regina, is a teacher at the Trinity Church Day School. Her parents and brother and sister celebrated her Latin exam score by taking her out for ice cream.

"My parents are very supportive," Virginia said. "They are very proud and very happy for me."

From her year of Latin study, she has adopted a phrase she sees as most applying to her.

"I like carpe diem," she said. "It's kind of like my personal motto."

' It means seize the day.


To receive a copy of popular Latin phrases, call Sunfax at (410) 332-6123. Punch in information number 5500.

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