French students win Texas French Symposium, host showcase to celebrate victory

French students won first place at the Texas French Symposium last month, with one of the largest teams to have participated since St. John’s began competing in the event nine years ago.

In addition to the team’s victory, five Mavericks placed among the top six overall point-scorers. Freshman Jerry Zhang placed second, senior Noura Jabir placed third, freshman Mia Hong and senior Romit Kundagrami tied for fourth and senior Rachel Hecht placed sixth.

“I was so happy when the results were posted,” Zhang said. “It really goes to show that hard work does pay off.”

Senior Karli Fisher and sophomore Maggie Henneman performed vocal solos from the original French version of Les Misérables. They placed first and second respectively in that category.

The Mavericks also swept the comic strip category, winning first place in five of the six levels. Charlotte Gillard’s comic, “Le Fantasme de Macron,” won the award for overall best entry.

Symposium is a highlight of the French department.

— Elizabeth Willcutt

Her comic combines political satire with the Symposium theme of France’s agricultural abundance. It depicts French politicians offering up the typical dishes of their regions, from Norman cheeses to Parisian pastries. 

This year, instead of traveling to a host school to perform their readings or present their artwork, students mailed their comic strips to TFS and submitted performance videos online. In order to lessen the workload for volunteer teachers and judges, some categories were canceled and the number of entries was limited. 

French Symposium Officers Romit Kundagrami and Ana Sofia Miro, both juniors, reviewed each student’s submission to make sure they followed new labeling guidelines and used their correct student ID numbers. Kundagrami caught several mistakes that would have disqualified the entries.

“It was a lot of work,” Miro said, “but it was totally worth it, seeing as we got first place.”

On May 20, the French club hosted an in-person French Symposium Showcase to celebrate their victory in the Fine Arts Annex. A previously scheduled in-person event for team bonding and rehearsal was canceled at the last minute due to the freeze back in February.

The showcase event featured a mashup video of student recitations and separate screenings of the two vocal performances. Piano and violin performances were held live, and student artwork was on display.

Last year, French teachers Elizabeth Willcutt and Shelley Stein spent months planning for the 2020 competition before TFS announced its cancelation due to the pandemic. By then, students had already spent hours preparing for their events, ranging from theatrical monologue performances to comic strip creations.

“Symposium is a highlight of the French department,” Willcutt said. “Everyone was really eager to participate, so we were disappointed when it was canceled.”

When senior Charlotte Gillard learned that this year’s French Symposium would be hosted virtually, she was still grateful since the event was happening at all.

Next year, French Symposium will take place in-person in April at Kingwood Park High School in Humble ISD. 

“We’re really excited about continuing next year and going to an in-person event,” said Willcutt, who also serves as a member of the Symposium board. “Hopefully the enthusiasm from this year’s win will propel us forward so that we’ll take first place next year too.”

Both sponsors stressed the importance of participation and team bonding over too much focus on points and trophies. 

“What mattered was that so many of you participated, and even if you only made it past the first round, you earned points for the team,” Stein told students at the Showcase event. 

Willcutt added that Symposium had given French Club a focal point during a year when club meetings were hard to schedule. 

“Well done for keeping things going throughout the year,” she told students. “For a pandemic year, it’s really not bad.”