Estimated reading time: 3 minute(s)

This is the 666th full-length article at The New Leaf Journal (not counting Leaflets, pages, and other custom posts – see our full article list). The foreboding number reminded me of a story from my high school days.

In 10th grade, my global history class had to undertake a “cathedral project.” The project involved building a model cathedral with correct dimensions, writing a narrative of how the cathedral was built and the story behind it, and delivering a presentation. My colleague Victor V. Gurbo completed the project one year ahead of me and surely remembers it well. In fact, both Victor and I spent a good amount of time in the two years subsequent to our own cathedral projects helping the next generation of sophomores.

By the way, I received an A+ on the strength of my narrative and dimensions despite the fact that my model consisted of a drawing on a piece of graph paper that I tore out of a lightly-used notebook. Look, the rules never said you had to build a cathedral yourself. It just had to make sense.

But I digress.

There were a number of smart-but-lazy students in my class. Now, it was not difficult for an academically inclined student in my school to achieve high grades with minimal effort (i.e., going to class and remaining conscious). The student I am referencing here was impressively lazy though. His parents pulled him out of the school after our 10th grade year was done. I was told by others that it was because they were concerned that the school was not inspiring in him a passion for study. But in 10th grade he was in my class, and that is where our story takes place.

Now, in designing the cathedral , one had to satisfy the teacher that based on the specified dimensions the cathedral would not fall down and also explain the significance of the dimensions. For example, perhaps the cathedral had three chapels with three having significance because it represented the Trinity. Things like that.

In any event, this student went up to do his presentation. He did well enough at speaking in front of the class despite the fact that public speaking was not his forte. Things were going well until he explained that his cathedral was 666 feet long. Here, I will note that he came from a religious Jewish family and was perhaps disinclined to design a cathedral. My teacher questioned that choice of dimension. The student tried to make the case that this would be a sensible choice for medieval cathedral builders. Despite his best efforts, he was unable to convince the teacher (or anyone else who was awake) of the wisdom of his choice.

I think that the student still received a passing grade. To be fair, the grading may have been done on a scale. Some of the presentations were genuinely awful. It really was not a difficult assignment, but many of these kids could not process it. I became painfully aware of that when I was helping younger students prepare their projects over the next two years. The most painful presentation was by the girl who said “like” more than 70 times. We counted. We were prepared. The high “like” count was foreseeable. At least the presentation by the designer of cathedral 666 was in English.

Conversely, I will note that you did not have to be one of the high-achieving students to get a good grade on the project. Victor and I were two of the best students there and we both notched A+ grades in our respective years. In my year the most notable presentation other than my own very long one was given by a student who was not noted for her academics. But she was terrific at giving presentations. Every time we had a presentation, whether it was for history or science or any other subject, she delivered despite not otherwise being a particularly good student (or a present student in 11th and 12th grades. I always enjoyed her presentations and respected her for them. (She never paid back for a Metro Card swipe in middle school, however.)

But I digress. If there is a lesson here, it is to not try to convince people that a medieval cathedral should be 666 feet long.