Piling onto a bus headed for Irvine, Westridge School Latin students talk excitedly about the next two days even though they'll just be hanging with a self-described bunch of dead-language nerds. They are on their way to a statewide convention of Latin students at University High School where they will meet other teens who enjoy the language and its classic literature.
"It's nerdy fun and it's a convention of geeks,' says Sophie Rengarajan, an incoming senior Latin student at Westridge in Pasadena. "It's not an ordinary kind of thing.'
And it's not the annual toga party that keeps her involved, she says.
"Personally, it spurs on my excitement for studying Latin and allows me to take the excitement back to the classroom,' Rengarajan says.
Westridge is one of several schools in the Pasadena area that offer Latin classes for their students. Others include Flintridge Preparatory School, Mayfield Senior School and St. Francis High School.
Many of these schools have Junior Classical League chapters. For a annual fee, students can become members of the league and receive a membership card the Westridge Latin students fondly refer to as a "Latin nerd card.'
The league sponsors two annual conventions, the first the Southern California Amici Madness SCRAM a one-day convention each fall.
In the spring, the California Junior Classical League also sponsors the statewide two-day convention.
The convention begins with academic tests for the students followed by an assembly on Friday night and a dinner on Saturday night. There's also a race in which the classics students build their own chariots and pull it themselves.
On Saturday morning, the students and chaperones wear ancient Roman clothing. The female students wear stolae, long, roomy dresses girt with a cord and buttoned at the sleeves.
The male students wear togas, garments that fasten at the shoulder.
At both conventions, Latin students often participate in Certamen, meaning "contest' in Latin. This game requires knowledge of the Latin language as well as the culture of ancient Rome. The questions range from queries about grammar to the layout of the typical Roman residence.
Other foreign language students sometimes wonder what makes Latin students enjoy Latin so much. While many high school students choose French or Spanish classes to fulfill their foreign language requirement, the Latin students instead choose to study a dead language. To many people, this choice of study seems useless because Latin is no longer spoken.
Kristie Finch, an incoming freshman at Pepperdine University, recently graduated from Flintridge Prep. For her, Latin was not interesting because "the teacher seemed boring and very static whereas the other ones were engaging and friendly.' She chose to study Spanish.
Her brother Michael Finch, an incoming sophomore at Saint Francis High School, says that he enrolled in Latin partially because it did not require speaking and thus led to less pressure in the classroom. Once he began his Latin classes, he says "it was fun at first and then it got hard. But it was still fun.'
Westridge student Rengarajan says, "I started taking it in seventh grade when it was mandatory. But I have taken it since then because I think it is fascinating to translate works that are over 2,000 years old.'