On Friday, February 9, Brigitte de Wever, Polly Rimer Duke, and Jonathan M. Shee were honored with the insignia of the Chevalier of the Order of Academic Palms in a ceremony held at the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York. Cultural Counselor Bénédicte de Montlaur bestowed the insignia upon them for their dedication as teachers of the French language and culture.
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,
As Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy, I am delighted to welcome you this evening to honor three exceptional individuals who have dedicated their lives to the French language, culture, and education: Polly Rimer Duke, Jonathan M. Shee and Brigitte de Wever.
Mesdames, Monsieur, c’est pour moi un grand honneur de vous accueillir ici et vous remettre les insignes de Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques. Permettez-moi de continuer en anglais pour nos invités.
This award, founded in 1808 by Napoleon Bonaparte, honors individuals who have distinguished themselves in the field of education and recognizes their dedication and accomplishments in teaching, scholarship, or research. : Polly Rimer Duke, Jonathan M. Shee and Brigitte de Wever have all demonstrated their status as exemplary educators by contributing to the growth and expansion of the French language and culture through their hard work, their leadership, and their passion.
I will proceed in alphabetical order, starting with Brigitte de Wever.
Dear Brigitte de Wever,
When you started your studies in France, no one could have guessed where your career path would take. You studied Art and Art History in Bordeaux – your hometown—and then studied in Paris at the Sorbonne before heading to the United States for a double major in Fashion and Design at Washington University in Saint Louis, Missouri.
For more than ten years, you worked as a designer for prestigious luxury brands. But then, something changed. You decided to return to your roots. You joined the Berkeley Carroll School in Brooklyn, and became a French teacher. You decided to go back to school not only as a teacher, but also as a student. In 2003, you earned your Master’s degree in French Language and Civilization at New York University.
All this you managed to do while participating in numerous conferences and seminars, as well as developing your teaching career. In 1996, you left the Berkeley Carroll School to join Saint Saviour Elementary School until 2000, and then MS51, the William Alexander School, where you worked for 12 years.
You have had a tremendous impact on the MS51, the William Alexander School and on its students, opening a new French Dual Language Program. According to your colleagues, the MS51’s French Dual Language Program has been such a success because of all you have created. Indeed, beyond teaching French as a second language, you immersed yourself in research and writing to create a program of quality. After gathering resources for the 6th grade program, you wrote your own 7th grade textbook which was an important aid to teaching American History in French.
Your role in promoting the French language did not stop there. You took your love of teaching even further, by writing, correcting and editing books in your mother tongue. Your work must have helped so many. Not only those trying to learn French, but also those trying to teach it. Indeed, you decided to share your incredible experience by counseling new teachers at MS51, becoming a mentor and an example to follow.
Before I confer the medal, I would just like to note that receiving this honor tonight, begins a family tradition for you, your godfather, Jean-Louis Hédin, who worked for the CRDP in Bordeaux, France, was officier the ordre des Palmes académiques.
Brigitte de Wever, au nom du Gouvernement Français, je vous fais Chevalier dans l’ordre des Palmes Académiques.
Dear Polly Rimer Duke,
30 incredible years of your life have been dedicated to teaching French. You have taught at Oxford University, Phillips Academy, Andover, Columbia University, and Friends Academy, where you are currently Head of World Languages and Cultures.
You went into teaching very early in your career, arriving at Philips Academy in 1987, after receiving a Master’s degree in French at Middlebury. Before long you decided to go back to the classroom yourself, and you received another Master’s, this time in educational administration, at Columbia University. You stayed on at this prestigious university to teach courses in the humanities and French, and culminated your time there by receiving a Ph.D. in French and Romance Philology in 2000.
Throughout your career, you have above all dedicated yourself to your students and their success, and the experiences they have had from having you as their teacher have been irreplaceable. You hold two of the most wonderful qualities a teacher could have in excess: patience and compassion. In your classroom, students feel free to express themselves, which is critical in all classrooms but especially for learning languages. Students know they can seek you out for extra help or support – some even call you “mom”. Obviously, in love with your job, you try every day to make French language and Francophone culture inspirational and engaging for every student. Apparently, you can be silly at times. That seems hard to believe, given your professionalism and impressive credentials. But on days where a student in your class is celebrating a birthday, you pull out your banjo and make up a song on the spot in French about the birthday girl or boy. And these great surprises of yours are what makes you so special.
Beyond the incredible bonds you have created with your students, you also spearhead many events to bring together French and English speaking communities. You often do so in a way that combines your passion for civil rights, equality and justice. You have created numerous exchange programs for students to live in France and Quebec. You have also integrated members of the greater New York Francophone community into your classroom. This year, for example, your students had the opportunity to Skype with two Senegalese-Americans and then participate in a “Table Française” with Francophone Africans at a Senegalese Restaurant in Harlem. You also invited a Haitian-American father and daughter to discuss immigration and temporary-protected status during a lunch discussion at Friends Academy. You also arranged to have your students work with members of the greater New York Haitian-American community to organize a fundraising event for a school in Masson-Sion, Haiti. Through all of these initiatives, you have given your students the invaluable opportunity to learn about other cultures and to become more conscientious world citizens.
Furthermore, you have been a member of the American Association of Teachers of French (AATF) NY Metropolitan Chapter Board of Directors since 2004, its Recording Secretary and webmaster, its Vice President, and for the past two years, the Chapter’s President. As an active member of the AATF, you have published many articles and also given many presentations on Francophone culture, literature, and educational technology. We are not the first to recognize your outstanding teaching, nor will we be the last. You have received the highest honors for teaching at Friends Academy as well as the Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching from Columbia University,
Polly Rimer Duke, vous êtes sans aucun doute une enseignante très appréciée, que ce soit de vos élèves ou de vos collègues. All the people who know you, believe that you truly love young people. And we are today more than thankful for all your contributions to the promotion of French language.
Dear Polly, for all these contributions to French Culture I am delighted to present you with the insignia of the Palmes Académiques.
Polly Rimer Duke, au nom du Gouvernement français, je vous fais Chevalier dans l’ordre des Palmes académiques.
Let’s now turn our attention to Jonathan M. Shee:
Dear Jonathan, you are an amazing teacher. Be it by dance, song or theater, your primary ambition is to bring your students closer to language learning and especially French learning.
After graduating with a B.A. in French from Middlebury College, you went on to receive a Masters in Administration and Education Policy at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
You quickly began your career, teaching first at Wilbraham and Monson Academy in Massachusetts. And then joining the St Luke’s School, where you are still teaching.
All your colleagues describe you as a dynamic person capable of making the entire school excited about language learning. Each year during the World Language Week organized at St Luke’s, you are bubbling with ideas and original thoughts to make this moment unique. One year, you had the entire school learn and videotape a “flash mob” dance, and another year, you orchestrated an all-school, multilingual original “lip dub” which included one video camera speeding through the halls of the school to capture every single person participating.
Furthermore, you lead the Connecticut Section c of the AATF (American Association of Teachers of French). Your work in the Association empowers your section, especially with the multimedia website that you have created; serving as a model for the other sections.
Your love for the French Language and France has led you to develop a partnership and exchange programs with a Parisian school. You often contact them using video conference.
Indeed, your teaching is characterized by the use of new technologies and also new information technologies that make it attractive for students. The various programs and activities that you have implemented during your career show your strong passion for teaching and passing your knowledge to the next generation.
Many of your colleagues are with us this evening and they can attest to your contagious enthusiasm for all things French!
Jonathan M. Shee, to express our gratitude for your outstanding career, it is my honor to confer on you this medal.
Jonathan M. Shee, au nom du Gouvernement français, je vous fais Chevalier dans l’ordre des Palmes académiques.
Before we conclude this ceremony, I would like to call on stage Diane Pavazian, a Chevalier in the Academic Palms herself, a professor, and the President of the Société des Professeurs Français et Francophones d’Amérique.
Diane will say a few words about our work in support of new teachers of French, as well as the work of her organization. We will award scholarships to 6 student-teachers who will follow in your footsteps and teach in one of the city’s French dual language programs, and help us expand bilingual education in public schools throughout New York City and beyond.