William Hundert works at a boarding school for boys called Saint Benedict's in 1971. He is a passionate teacher of Classics who finds his tightly-controlled world shaken when a new student, Sedgewick Bell, walks into his classroom. Sedgewick Bell is the cocky son of a U.S. Senator who possesses none of Hundert's principles. After a dressing down from his father, Bell develops a close relationship with Hundert. After Hundert intentionally raises Bell's class rank by one place, Bell finishes in the top 3 in Hundert's class and qualifies for the traditional end of the year Mr. Julius Caesar contest. However, Hundert reconsiders his actions when he sees Martin Blythe, the rightful third place contestant, despondently withdrawn under a tree. The Mr. Julius Caesar competition is an event in front of the whole school, which is a series of questions about classics. However, when Hundert sees Bell using crib notes, the headmaster orders Hundert to ignore it. Hundert then asks a question on Hamilcar Barca which was not covered in class, but is answered by another contestant, Deepak Mehta, who knew due to his personal interest in military science, and Mehta is crowned Mr. Julius Caesar. The cheating is never publicized, but the trust Bell and Hundert had in each other is broken. Bell returns to his class clown ways and barely graduates in 1976, with Hundert remarking he had a sense of deep disappointment handing Bell the diploma.