Last year, Justin Eckilson ’14, a History major and French minor, was honored repeatedly. Not only did he graduate summa cum laude, he received the History Department Award, the Fr. Stephen E. Parent, OSB Award (Delta Epsilon Sigma, Tau Chapter), and the Chancellor’s Award for the highest GPA in the graduating class. This year, another History major pulled off this impressive trifecta: Pete Schirripa ’15 (Lexington, MA) carried off the very same honors. Schirripa also minored in Secondary Education and obtained his teaching certification. This fall, he will start teaching Ancient Civilization to sixth graders at Jonas Clarke Middle School in Lexington. You may remember that One Thing after Another interviewed Schirripa over a year ago after he obtained an internship at the Northfield Mount Hermon School in Gill, MA. One Thing after Another had the good fortune to interview this remarkable History major yet again after graduation.
Q: What brought you to Saint Anselm? When and why did you decide to become a history major?
A: Though I knew next to nothing about the college, the courses it offered, or what I wanted to study, I decided to attend Saint Anselm in the fall of 2011. To be honest, I chose to go to Saint Anselm because it gave me more money than Providence College.
As I mentioned, I did not know what I wanted to study when I arrived at Saint Anselm. Despite having below-average math skills and hating to analyze quantitative data, I declared a Business major before the fall of my freshman year. It took me three weeks of microeconomics to realize that the subject did not interest me at all. I did not like doing the assigned reading, and I was not interested in figuring out how the material applied to my life outside of the classroom.
While I dreaded doing the reading for my microeconomics class, I looked forward to reading for my Humanities course. In this class, we examined some of the greatest thinkers and civilizations of the Western world. In addition to being fascinated by the content of this course, I loved trying to figure out how the material pertained to my life. I was also constantly thinking about the strengths and limitations of the sources we read. This Humanities course introduced me to the discipline of history. After one semester of Humanities, I was convinced I needed to major in History. I loved the content, and I was fascinated by the idea of studying what people valued in the past. I switched majors midway through the first semester, and I took my first history course at Saint Anselm College in the spring of 2012.
Q: Initially, you were interested in teaching high school, and last year, you obtained a paid summer internship at Northfield Mount Hermon School in Gill, MA. You did your student teaching, however, at Lurgio Middle School in Bedford, NH, and you’ll start teaching this fall at Clarke Middle School in Lexington, MA. Why did you decide to switch to teaching middle school?
A: I decided to switch to teaching middle school because I want to build strong students who are interested in history. Obviously, I do not mean to say that high school students cannot develop an interest in history; however, I have noticed that students usually know in which subjects they are interested by the time they get to high school. Unfortunately, high school students are often convinced that they do not like history. It can be challenging to change their opinion. Middle schoolers, on the other hand, are much more impressionable and an engaging history teacher can spark an interest in the subject for years to come. At the end of the day, I am very excited to teach history and show students all of the difficult yet important lessons that it teaches. Right now, I want to teach middle school, but I would not be surprised if that changes in a few years.
Q: Tell us about your senior research seminar project. Did you pick that topic because you are interested in eventually going into school administration and becoming a principle?
A: My senior thesis was entitled “We’re Bringing Conservatism Back–Mel and Norma Gabler’s Fight for the New Right” Throughout my paper, I argued that Mel and Norma Gabler, a Baptist couple from Longview, Texas, help construct the New Right. The New Right was a network of activists, organizations, and constituencies that was strongly opposed to the ERA, affirmative action, and any attack on America’s traditional morals. The New Right took hold of the conservative movement in the 1970s and was essential to Reagan and the Republican Party’s dominance in the 1980s. Mel and Norma Gabler helped build the New Right by searching school textbooks for “secular humanism,” a broad product of liberalism that most conservatives wanted to destroy. I concluded that Mel and Norma, through their dedication to reviewing school textbooks for secular humanism, were able to create a unifying message that brought Catholics, Evangelicals, and Baptists together against the “evils” of liberalism. In other words, I found out that despite popular belief, the New Right was created not only from large-scale political events such as Roe v. Wade, but from grassroots movements in textbook editing as well.
I really enjoyed researching this topic. It blended education, history, politics, and religion, all of which interest me very much. I chose this topic because I wanted to understand what material makes it into history textbooks and how this material is presented in the book. I wanted to know more about this process because I wanted to be able to speak intelligently about different textbooks in department meetings and job interviews. Also, I hope to be a school administrator one day. Hopefully, this knowledge will help me choose the best textbooks for my school. If not, it was really interesting research, and it helped me practice the important skills of researching and writing. I was shocked to find out that a local complaint from two people could eventually have a major impact on national politics.
Q: The last time One Thing after Another interviewed you, we asked you what kind of advice you’d give to a roomful of freshman history majors who wanted to go into teaching. This time, we’d like to know what kind of advice you’d give to a roomful of newly arrived freshmen at Saint Anselm College.
A: I would tell freshman to really think about the saying “Where faith seeks understanding.” It is important to note that the college does not contend that at Saint Anselm faith finds understanding. In other words, the mission of a Saint Anselm student when he or she arrives is not to find anything so much as it is to pursue it with fire and persistence. I would reiterate to freshman that they will never find easy answers to the difficult and important questions in life. Saint Anselm, however, will teach them to love the challenge of trying to answer those questions. I would tell them that it is so important to learn to love the quest for knowledge and faith. And I do not only mean faith in the religious sense, but also faith in your education, in your friends, your roots, yourself, and in your future. I am happy I went to Saint Anselm and had the opportunity to learn from professors who are passionate about their work. Their passion allowed me to develop an appreciation for learning, and I hope to continue to pursue learning and challenges with that same persistence I used at Saint Anselm. I would let freshmen know that without the desire to learn for the sake of knowing, their studies and time at Saint Anselm will be unfulfilling.
Q: Everybody knows that the American Revolutionary War began in Lexington on April 19, 1775. As Lexington native, could you tell us something special or interesting about that town that most of us wouldn’t know about?
A: Interestingly, Lexington, MA, is the home of the first state-funded school to train teachers. The Normal School, as it was called, was created in 1839 because of the burgeoning need for professional teachers in grammar and rhetoric. The mission of the school, which would later become Framingham State University, was to train quality teachers to make education affordable for the lower-middle class. Before the school in Lexington was established, only the wealthy had access to privately trained and qualified teachers. With the help of Horace Mann, Massachusetts’ first Secretary of the State Board of Education, the school in Lexington was built in 1839. Under the leadership of Reverend Cyrus Peirce, the school graduated twenty-five women from its first class. One of the most successful educators from this class was Mary Swift Lamson, a teacher in the newly created Perkins School for the Blind and co-founder of the YMCA in Boston. The school’s original building is next to the historic battle green, the location of the first battle of the American Revolutionary War.