Veni, Vedi, Didici: Mr. Kelly’s Experience with the Classics

Mr. Jeffrey Kelly ’85 shares his experience with the Classics and passion for the Latin Language.

Picture of Mr. Jeff Kelly 85 from

Picture of Mr. Jeff Kelly ’85 from

Jessica Choe, Editor

The most common comment I get from people when I tell them I study the Classics is a rather dismissive “it’s a dead language.” Yet, the Classics is not dead, and we can spot the remnants of seemingly bygone civilizations in our English language, works of literature and art, and even in our very government system. 

In spirit of celebrating the Classics, I had a conversation with Mr. Jeffrey Kelly ‘85 and discussed his experience and passion for the Classicsand especially the Latin language. 


Q: When you were a student at Govs, who was your latin teacher? What was the Latin curriculum like then?

A: I had Mr. Beckett for two years and Ms. Fitzgerald for two years. The curriculum was traditional–we used the classic prep school Jenney text (written by several ISL Latin teachers), reading some Caesar in Latin 2, Cicero in Latin 3, and Vergil in Latin 4. My Latin name was Tiberius.

Q: Why did you major in Classics? What were some of your favorite excerpts/classes that you took in college?

A: Believe it or not, I thought I would be a biochem major at Haverford after enjoying a bio course my senior year at GDA. I also placed well in Latin at Haverford, so I always kept my Latin up. When organic chemistry did not work out my freshman year in college, I had the Latin to fall back on, and I am glad I did. I enjoyed all my Classics courses at Haverford, struggled a bit in Greek at Bryn Mawr, and really enjoyed Cicero, Horace, and Vergil in my graduate courses at Harvard. And hard as it was and as long as it took, I am proud of my thesis on Book 3 of Vergil’s Aeneid.

Q: A lot of people say Latin is a dead language and thus useless. Why should we take Latin nonetheless?   

A: If Latin is dead, then we wouldn’t be speaking English as we know it. We derive so much English vocabulary and grammar from Latin that we could not do without it. Like many disciplines, language is cumulative, so what we speak and write now is built upon what has been spoken and written for millenia with so many different influences. In addition, by taking Latin you get to read what people wrote centuries ago, and their words often describe the human condition much as we know it today. It is comforting and fascinating to realize the lives of ancient people were in many ways similar to our own. History, culture, art, politics: studying Latin can be a wonderful interdisciplinary endeavor. 

Q: Latin used to be a huge part of the “prep school culture.” Why do you think people at Govs don’t take classics anymore?

A: I think Latin is considered a prep school thing because it was regarded as a classic, traditional subject, compiled into textbooks by white men to be studied by the same. Caesar was always a standard author to read, and for a long time his Commentaries on the Gallic Wars were interpreted as a testament to the power and glory of Rome. That text can also be seen as an imperialistic power grab by Caesar as he uses his forces to crush native people and profit from them. I think the Vietnam War opened people’s eyes to this, and perhaps depopularized Latin. The emergence of other modern World Languages made Latin seem less practical too. However, I think Latin attracts a certain kind of student and hope it will always have a place in schools. The challenge is to study the culture critically, with eyes open to all its flaws as well as its innovations. I hope students at Govs will see that Latin is an interesting subject to study, hard at times and definitely worth the effort.