Every year around graduation we at the SCS office are treated to a social media feed full of Classics graduates in cap-and-gown, proudly reflecting on their time in the field. Whether that time will soon end or is merely just beginning, we always love to hear more about graduates' experiences in Classics and what stands out to them as some of the more vivid and memorable moments.
So we reached out to a few universities to do just that. Graduation is a busy time, so we were not able to reach everyone, but here below are four Classics graduates who were happy to reflect on our two most pressing questions: what is your most vivid memory and most unexpected experience in Classics?
Here's what we received:
Karen Gusmer (B.A. Classical Languages, Wake Forest University 2019)
The most unexpected part of my college experience is that I even chose to major in Classic Languages at all. I had taken some Latin in high school and liked how it made me feel like an elite, well-educated student, but I never really saw how it could have any practical, modern-day application. I came into Wake Forest and took Latin just to fulfill the language requirement, but that intermediate language requirement class ended up blossoming into so much more.
I distinctly remember reading Erasmus’ “Echo” text in that class and being so mesmerized by how the language could be crafted to further enhance a text’s meaning-and especially in a way that the English language is not capable of. As I continued to study more Greek and Latin, I enjoyed reading a variety of authors and learning how these ancient masters of rhetoric have employed certain diction and style in order to achieve a certain rhetorical purpose. Studying the Latin language has given me a much greater understanding of how to effectively communicate in a variety of rhetorical situations in the English language, whether it be through academic writing, emails, presentations, and even everyday personal communication.
Emily Dana (B.A. Near Eastern and Judaic Studies & B.A. in Classical Studies, Brandeis University 2019)
I knew coming into college that I was going to love learning about the languages and history in the Classics Department, but I didn’t know that writing a Classics thesis would teach me more about my theology and life than anything else I did in college. I wrote on the concepts of determinism and free will in Hesiod, Theognis, Ecclesiastes, and Ecclesiasticus, and through the process of doing this, finally figured out how I conceptualize God or any divine being. Writing this thesis project, which was centered on questions of authorship, gave me permission to question the things that I thought were “unquestionable” in my life, and while I am a religious person going on to become a religious professional, my Classics thesis taught me more about religion and the blurred lines between secular and sacred than any other experience that I had in college.
No memory comes to mind when I think about my experience in the Classical Studies: rather, I see snapshots of my thesis defense, struggling through Greek with friends, sitting in my professors’ offices talking about life. I can truly say that, based on my experience, people are more important than specific memories, and the relationships that I built within the Classical Studies Department at Brandeis will still be present even though my formal education in Classics is coming to a close.
Charles Kuper (SCS/NEH Postdoctoral Fellow at the Thesaurus linguae Latinae in Munich [currently working on repraesentare]. He graduated from Bryn Mawr College with his Ph.D. in 2017)
Overall, my experience of graduate school was wonderful. This is not to deny that graduate studies in classics, especially in the current market, has its share of challenges, both general and unique to each person, myself included. But at the same time, I could not be more grateful for the support that I received from my institution, mentors, friends, and family to study something so important and useful.
I suspect that my most unusual experience in graduate school was participating in a field seminar in Cappadocia led by Robert Ousterhout and Tolga Uyar during the summer of 2013. After a few days in Istanbul, a dozen or so graduate students and I spent most of a month hiking through the picturesque landscapes of central Turkey, exploring underground, rock-cut cities, listening to lectures on middle Byzantine architecture and painting in situ, and presenting in groups on unpublished archaeological sites. To say that I was out of my comfort zone is an understatement, but confronting my profound ignorance certainly had its merits. It was the perfect opportunity to pursue my emerging interest in Byzantium, and also to think more deeply about what classics is and the sort of relationships that we classicists can and perhaps should have with other disciplines.
My most vivid (read: happiest) memory from graduate school was teaching my first course. My department had asked me to design a course that would attract majors and non-majors alike, so I chose the cult of the saints in late antiquity, one of my areas of specialty. It was thrilling to introduce a less familiar period of Roman history, literature, and material culture to students, and especially, to read texts rarely assigned in a classics classroom (e.g., hagiography, pilgrimage accounts, graffiti, and anti-Christian polemic). I was living what I had come to graduate school to do: to share my research with students and as a group, try to understand our human condition a little better. I will not forget that.
Finally, I cannot reflect on my time in graduate school and fail to mention my advisor Catherine Conybeare. The gratitude felt to a good advisor is probably inexpressible, so I will not try. I have so much respect for her as a scholar and as a person. It is a delight to know her.
Jaymie Orchard (B.A. in Classics from University of British Columbia, 2019)
I am struck by how broader conversations about diversity and inclusion manifest themselves in Classics and related fields. Students are participating actively in dialogues on difficult topics, and are stepping up to the challenge of (re)shaping the academic community by bringing fresh perspectives and new ideas to their study.
To this end, in March 2019, a fellow student, Dora Gao, and I organized a Diversity and Inclusion Forum in our department. Together, we created a safe space to discuss current issues and brainstorm actionable changes to help create a more inclusive learning environment. I was moved by the support and enthusiasm of all those who were in attendance. It was powerful to witness students and faculty come together to find meaningful ways to elevate alternative perspectives and underrepresented voices in academia. It was a profound experience for me to help begin this conversation about consciously promoting a more inclusive learning environment for everyone in the UBC Classical, Near Eastern, and Religious Studies Department.
More May 2019 Newsletter Content
Learn about how you can help us increase even further the number of minority student scholarships we award this year.
Analyze and download the results of the SCS/WCC/LCC harassment survey.
Photo Credits for May 2019 Newsletter