Gilman Class of '00 `put it all together'

Class: Leaders of the private boys school say they can't remember a group as accomplished as this year's.

June 04, 2000|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

The All-Metro quarterback of the undefeated football team graduates with straight A's and is Princeton-bound.

The valedictorian, a silver medal winner in the international Physics Olympiad, helps the tennis team win a conference championship. He's headed to California Institute of Technology.

Another boy is an academic All-American and cellist who has played Carnegie Hall. Still another is a nationally ranked wrestler with a 4.0 grade-point average. And there's an MIT-caliber science whiz with a Peabody-trained voice.

All are members of Gilman School's Class of 2000. As they and their classmates prepare to cross the stage tomorrow in front of the picturesque Old Gym with diplomas in hand, many are calling this year's seniors the strongest graduating class in recent memory at the Baltimore prep school.

"I'd say it's the highest-achieving class in a broad range of areas," says Gilman Headmaster Archibald R. Montgomery IV. "These boys have accomplished things I haven't seen before."

Jeffrey E. Christ, head of the upper school's English department and the senior class adviser, says, "They, more than recent classes, have put it all together."

Those might seem to be bold statements at a school with a tradition of excellence, a school whose gradu- ates include doctors and scientists(cancer researcher William Isaacs), politicians (U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.) and prominent journalists and writers (historian Walter Lord and sportswriter Frank Deford).

For someone who might demand empirical evidence, such as Jason Oh, the 18-year-old physics Olympian, here are some facts:

Ivy League colleges extended 39 acceptance letters to members of the class, up from 29 to last year's class and an average of 27.5 the past four years. A sampling of other private schools in the area found none with more than 21 Ivy League acceptances.

Of the seniors accepted to Ivy League schools, 17 were accepted by Harvard, Princeton or Yale, as many as in 1996 and 1997 combined. Six were accepted by Harvard, more than in any year in recent memory. Among other selective universities, Stanford accepted seven Gilman students - seven more than the year before.

Of the 20 students named to USA Today's All-USA High School Academic First Team, two were the first ever from Gilman.

Two students recorded perfect scores of 1,600 on the SAT college entrance exam, the first time that had happened at the school in memory.

The football team, led by senior quarterback Ryan Boyle and senior fullback Mike Faust, finished the season 10-0, ranked No. 1 in the area. Boyle was also an All-American on the top-ranked lacrosse team.

Faust, who plans to study business at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, was the No. 1-ranked senior heavyweight among the country's scholastic wrestlers.

Humble achievers

Still, many at Gilman say the numbers don't tell the whole story. To understand what distinguishes this group of 113 graduating seniors, turn not to the sciences, but to the humanities.

"We will have a class next year with a stronger mean SAT. We have had classes with stronger mean SATs," Montgomery says. "What, I guess, makes this crew worthy of special attention is that they combine real achievement with a sense of humility."

Daniel Christian, who teaches senior courses in Dante and Dickens, said that even when the offers to attend the top colleges began to roll in, students were not boastful.

"There wasn't that kind of `My Daddy can beat up your Daddy' talk," he said. "They were too busy talking about `David Copperfield.'"

Expectations exceeded

School officials say that over the past several years it had become increasingly apparent that this group of students was exceptionally bright. Brooks Matthews, a middle school history teacher, says the class stood out by the time it reached seventh grade.

Martin Meloy, a seventh- and eighth-grade science teacher, says, "What makes this class special is that so many lived up to expectations and exceeded them."

But how? Why this group?

"I have no idea. Good luck?" says Montgomery. "Every once in a while, a group of kids who are remarkable achievers come together in the school. They could have just as easily been scattered at different schools."

Gilman teachers and students say camaraderie and healthy competition help explain the class' success.

"It's not that cutthroat atmosphere," says Will Merrick, the Peabody vocalist, who is contemplating a double major in biomedical engineering and music at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "We have a desire to be excellent in all these areas, so we help each other out a lot."

One recent day, as Montgomery rose from his desk for a cup of coffee, he looked out from his office to see a crowd forming in the stately common area of the school's Carey Hall. It wasn't trouble. It was Jason Oh giving an impromptu physics lesson.

"He was explaining very patiently, in a very understandable way, Einstein's theory of relativity. It was its most complex aspect, that space is curved," Montgomery says.

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