SALEM — She is proof one person can make a big difference in a community, Anti-Defamation League (ADL) organizers said Wednesday as they honored Lynn School Superintendent Dr. Catherine C. Latham at the organization’s annual breakfast.
The event brought together legal, education, law enforcement and interfaith leaders to explore issues related to creating a more inclusive commonwealth. The leaders honored Latham, Middleton Police Chief James A. DiGianvittorio, and Christian Picciolini, a former neo-Nazi gang member who now works to counter racism and violent extremism.
“Today’s breakfast serves as an important reminder that we are not powerless in the face of hate. Chief Digiviantorrio, Dr. Latham and Christian Picciolini serve as role models, demonstrating the ways in which one person can make a big difference in their community,” said ADL New England Regional Director Robert Tristan.
The Kernwood Country Club event saluted Latham and her co-honorees, in Tristan’s words, “for the vital contributions they make to civil society.”
In a transcript of her remarks during the breakfast, Latham described a conversation she had with a student during her teaching tenure at English High School in the early 1990s. The student had been in a cafeteria fight and Latham said she was astonished what he told her when she spoke with him.
“I asked him, ‘Who were you fighting with?’ He responded with the name of another of our immigrant students that I did not know. Incredulous, I asked him why he was fighting. He responded, ‘He is from (another country).’ I asked, ‘Where are you from?’ He answered with his own country.
“I was speechless. It seemed so stupid to me, to be fighting with someone you didn’t know simply because he was from somewhere else. At that time to me, it brought the whole idea of hate and prejudice and discrimination to the ridiculous stage. It was like me hating someone because he or she was from Rhode Island or hating because he or she was Jewish, or gay, or a gypsy, or Christian or because they didn’t agree with your politics. It is all so incredibly stupid of us.
“I gave myself a mission that day to stop hate where I saw it, but at that time, I never thought that I would be in a position where I could really work to eliminate hate from more than just my classroom. But, as fate would have it, I am now and have been for almost 10 years,” the transcript quoted Latham as saying.
Latham is retiring at the end of this school year. Superintendent since 2009, the lifelong Lynn resident is a graduate of Lynn English High and Salem State College. She earned her master’s degree at Salem State and a doctorate in education at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She was a recipient of the Milken Family Foundation Educator Award for excellence in education.
The ADL breakfast was hosted by Ruth Budelmann, Melissa Kaplowitch, Rob Mazow, and Darren Klein.