Advanced Summer Program for students age 11-14
who show high promise and love mathematics

Messages of Executive Director and others to Alumni

Speeches by the Academic Director and the Executive Director at the closing ceremonies in MathPath 2008

July 26, 2008
University of Vermont
Burlington, VT

Speech by Mr M (Prof Stephen B Maurer), Academic Director

Parents and Students,
You might be curious what the Academic Director does. Indeed, one of the students, Rahul, noting that I wasn’t teaching during every breakout period, asked me what I did with my free time. Well, first, the AD (Academic Director) hires the faculty, which is not so easy because there are not so many professors who would be good with this age group, and fewer still who are willing to devote some of their time to such a program, when their job responsibilities lie elsewhere. The AD also prepares the Qualifying Test, evaluates the submissions, orients new faculty as they arrive each week, arranges the academic program, puts students into courses, coordinates with the math department at the host institution, prepares and analyzes surveys (you parents will be getting another one soon) and is already involved with others in planning the camp for next year. Oh, and along the way I do teach a course of two.

But let’s talk about you, the students. I want to help you and your parents reflect on your experience here.

MathPath was the first national camp exclusively about mathematics and exclusively for middle-school aged students. It was founded by George Thomas, after he had already founded a high school age math camp.

Now there are competing camps – other exclusively math, national middle-school age programs. But MathPath remains unique in several ways, which I will now discuss. To summarize, it is unique because of the variety of mathematics and the amount of fun.

Many of you are very interested in math competitions. That’s a good way to get hooked into mathematics, and the competing camps emphasize competition preparation. But professional mathematicians don’t do competitions. They can get prizes for research, and sometimes for teaching and for writing mathematics. So bringing you into the real world of mathematics must take you beyond competitions.

We do have competition practice here. Indeed, I teach such courses myself, based on my experience years ago chairing the whole American Mathematical Competitions process. And Al Lippert was a winning state MathCounts coach and an excellent MathCounts teacher. But MathPath does much more.

We have foundation courses – courses on basic mathematical concepts that aren’t part of the North American school curriculum, such as number theory and induction. We have more advanced special topics courses, such as Dr V’s course on Ford Circles and Farey Sequences, and Prof Hartshorne’s plenaries on projective geometry. And we have courses where you see active mathematicians at work, for instance, John Conway explaining some of his many original ideas and Vlad Chernov here explaining some of the ideas he has done research on in the last 10 years.

Add to that our month long courses on history of mathematics and on writing mathematics and you get a very broad view of the mathematical endeavor. You probably didn’t expect all of this, and perhaps not all of it appealed to you, but you got a wide view.

And that is not all. Let me mention the Problems of the Day, run by Al Lippert. These are thinking out of the box problems. They are rarely solved by traditional mathematical techniques; they usually need some sort of clever special idea. But many problems in life as well as mathematics need clever special ideas, so practice in looking for them is very valuable – as well as great fun.

So that’s an overview of what we do in the official academic program of the camp.

But that’s still not all. There is the unofficial part of the program – you students talking to each other. Sometimes you talk math to each other, sometimes you just kid around. But as one of you said in your camp end survey, this is a camp where it is ok to be a geeky math kid because there are lots of geeky math kids. And as a result, you do all sorts of things that geeky kids like to do. Among these are all the student run games and tournaments – chess, set, other card games, pool, table tennis, but also soccer, basketball, pickelball. But often with a geeky twist, as in the “pathetic” pool tournament and the bad math writing contest. The sense of humor is everywhere. I particularly noted the daily dual between Kip trying to get out important information in a timely fashion and you guys, obsessed with wanting to know everything in detail in advance, trying to sink him with questions before he has said 2 words. So next year, I think I will declare a new contest – the “really bad questions to Kip” contest.

But the point is, through your geeky natures bouncing off each other, you create a unique spirit and have a lot of fun.

You’ve made a lot of new friends, from around the country and the world. And today, with email and instant messaging and cell phones, and online forums like on the Art of Problem Solving, you can keep up with them – until you see them again at this camp next year, or other camps, or at college, or later in life.

So think back on what has happened here. And keep thinking back on it from time to time. A few years from now, even things that happened here that didn’t seem so important or interesting may stand out in ways you don’t now suspect.

I’ve really enjoyed being here with you, and I’m proud to have played a role in making it all happen. Thank-you!

Message from the Executive Director

Parents, students, staff, and faculty:

The happiest few minutes of my year have arrived for the sixteenth time since I started these mathematics camps. Partly due to Professor Maurer who worked hard in the admissions process and partly due to the maturing of the camp, I feel strongly that the quality of the campers is high. The mission of MathPath is to inspire and advance the most mathematically gifted middle school age students.

As I wrote in this year’s camp yearbook, it has always been my thinking that the word, “advance”, in our mission points us not only in the direction of mathematics but also in our conduct of life – our thinking of ourselves and others, and our interaction with others. I wrote, “the camp must be an agency for advancing the good of the camper, not only in mathematics but also in the camper’s very life. Just as good parents generally grow good people, the staff and faculty of the camp, to advance these students, must be models of moral character and high thinking.” I believe they have been!

Now, why do I say that MathPath must be an agency for advancing the good of the camper? I say that because this is the mathematics camp for 11-14 year-olds. And students of such young age are more impressionable than those attending the camps for older students.

If MathPath has advanced your good, would it stick to you for life? So I give you a principle that I discovered that has helped me. In retrospect I find that this principle is the essence of religions.

The qualifying process for admission to the camp ensures that the intelligence of the average camper here is far above that of the average of the general population or even that of the student body of an Ivy League college. So, you campers are able to appreciate the principle I am about to place before you. And the principle is this: Desire the welfare of others.

This simple principle is one of the hardest to practice, for it is asking for a thought process that is opposite to that for which we are wired. We are wired for the struggle and competition to survive and prosper. So, desiring the welfare of others is counter to the logic of our circuitry.

Humans do desire the welfare of others after theirs is met. This is seen in the phenomenon of the launching of philanthropic organizations by the wealthy. And that is good. The principle I ask us to consider is to desire the welfare of others even while we are seeking our own.

You may have observed dogs fighting over a piece of meat. The fight is understandable. We would behave the same way. Nature is driving us to take care of our own interest so we can be alive. But beyond and even in the basic needs, a person of extreme intelligence will desire the welfare of others. [PAUSE] I am not a person of extreme intelligence. Most of you are. You have the capacity to see deeper and wider. A deep thinker of high intellect has the capacity to see the whole creation in context better than the average person can.

While the principle – desiring the welfare of others - is hard to practice, let us consider the implications. Desiring the welfare of others will encourage us to contemplate the consequence of our actions and habits. Then we will pollute less, consume less, and be at the least more pleasant. [PAUSE] Not being pleasant is tantamount to hurting others. It is an error of omission that is in fact also an error of commission. What is the point in being a great mathematician if you are morose or not easy to get along with. World will have thousands of great mathematicians and then the universe dies to start all over again. All our achievements are temporary. I am not encouraging that we not pursue success in our endeavors. It is fun to pursue success. But it has no lasting value. Only that, between success and failure, success is more fun – as winning a game is.

Most people in the world today are not only not desiring the welfare of others but many are inconsiderate. One is inconsiderate when one considers others inconsiderable – not worth consideration, not important, not significant, or even insignificant. Inconsiderate is being not thoughtful of others and their rights and feelings. The English poet and polemicist, John Milton, wrote in his essay, “The ready and easy way to establish a commonwealth”, about “the inconsiderate multitude.” Do you want to be one of the inconsiderate multitude? [PAUSE] Then there are the consciously and intentionally inconsiderate people. They hurt others. They seek a heaven while denying an earth to the fellow human. I lament this abberation in god's otherwise beautiful design of the world and console myself that this type of person became so only by upbringing and circumstances.

I pray that you will grow up to respect others. I pray that you will care about the feelings of others and know that theirs are as important as yours. I pray that you rise in life by hard work but never lose sight that you are only as significant as the fellow human – whoever she or he may be. I pray that you not be a gifted fool who thinks you are too important.

I pray that those of you who will continue to pursue mathematics and who would also care deeply about others come back to your old camp one day as staff, faculty, and visiting speakers and “advance” the highly gifted as we have tried to. We love you and care about you.

Parting makes one sad. But this is the beginning. The beginning of a network we formed, through which we will communicate and even help each other throughout our lives. So go!

-- George Rubin Thomas


Page last updated November December 19, 2014
Copyright © 2001–   MathPath
Send suggestions to webmaster@mathpath.org