2019 Graduation Remarks
On Friday, May 17th, 2019, the Department of Classical Studies celebrated the graduation of 12 newly-minted classicists at our departmental commencement ceremony. We instituted a new tradition to mark the occasion. For the first time, graduating students delivered remarks to gathered faculty, family, and friends. This year we were honored to hear from Francis “Frankie” James DiMento III, graduating in Ancient Greek & Latin with honors, and from Kennedy Blake Farrow, graduating cum laude in Classical Civilization. We are delighted that DiMento and Farrow have shared their remarks for publication here.
Why Classics in the 21st Century, DiMento
SALVETE professors, esteemed guests, faculty, friends, family members and fellow classmates.
Ancient people, people who lived thousands of years ago, are the people we have studied, whose words we’ve translated, whose lives we’ve examined, and whose heads we’ve tried to enter. For those of you less familiar with an education in Classical Studies, it isn’t exactly studying the Latin and ancient Greek languages. That’s part of it, but the real educational journey has been trying to unlock the treasures of the human experience. If there’s one thing these four years have taught me it’s that, fundamentally, people today are not all that different from our Greek and Roman predecessors. We think the same thoughts, we feel the same emotions, and, for those of us who studied abroad in Greece or Rome, we even walk the same soil.
When I came to orientation four years ago, I heard stories about how the first advising appointment can be confusing, and how you’d wait in lines to see your advisor, and I began to think maybe Boston University was already too overwhelming for me. And then, on the fourth floor of the theology building, the corridor was so quiet that I thought that I was in the wrong place. But then I got to Professor Samons’ office. My first advising appointment was not what I expected. Instead of a brief meeting with a prompt dismissal, it turned out to be an hour-long discussion about my goals. I left orientation feeling that I made the right choice to come to BU and to major in Ancient Greek and Latin. As the years went on, I was reassured that I was in the right place. I know I speak for all of us here when I say that the people in this department care about the students.
I’m not saying that from a partial point of view, by the way. I’ve had my share of experiences outside of this department that can attest to how special it is here. The next chapter for me might be medical school, I might want to go to law school—the point is that I’m very unsure, so in that time I had to take some science courses and some math courses for the premed curriculum, and I’ve also been on the mock trial team since freshman year. I have constantly, however, been a student of the Classics first, and changing majors never crossed my mind. I’m telling you this because you can ask any of my mock trial teammates about how many times I talk about Lysias, the Athenian law court speech writer, or how frequently I want to throw a “cui bono” into our cases. I even found a way to bring premed work under the umbrella of Classics. My project over the past year with Professor Scully has been looking into mental disorders in antiquity. I consider that work a crucial part of my premedical curriculum, and it has been an important exercise in learning how to accept when you cannot know an answer, something I certainly didn’t learn in biochemistry.
Over the past four years we’ve been a part of a community here that fosters not only scholarship, but also a sense of belonging and friendship. The conversations we have had in our classes and office hours and extracurricular events are productive but also fun, and we’re encouraged to pave our own paths and discover our own interests. Whether you’re a Latinist or a Hellenist, or you prefer lyric poetry to epic, or would rather read drama over history, we’re all Classicists. When we leave here with our diplomas today, let’s not consider it the end of an educational journey. Instead, we should view those diplomas as a license to take the Classics with us into our future endeavors.
We should be proud to be a part of an academic tradition that goes back thousands of years. In that time people have preserved and studied the Classics because, like us, they recognized the value of stepping back from the world we know and consulting the past in all of its faults and glories. In an age in which this type of retrospection is often seen as counterproductive, the need for Classical Studies is greater than ever. Let’s not forget that although times will change, people will not.
To my classmates, and now my fellow graduates, who shared this journey with me, I say congratulations to each and every one of you. XAIRETE
When We Sail to Troy, Farrow
“For she who overcame everyone
Left her fine husband
Behind and went sailing to Troy.
Not for her children nor for her dear parents
Had she a thought” (Sappho, “Fragment 16” (trans. Anne Carson)
We might interpret these words from Sappho Fragment 16 as describing a woman who left all of her responsibilities on a whim. Or we could see Sappho glorifying Helen for seizing the opportunity at happiness in the face of a culture that restricted it.
Two years ago, I arrived at Boston University after three years spent researching and touring New England schools, taking and retaking the SATs, working 40-50 hours a week, and in my free time getting all A’s at Middle Tennessee State University. The path to higher education appeared utterly out of the realm of a girl raised by a single mom in the part of the Midwest that creates all the stereotypes. I come from a family of truck drivers and mechanics, most of the people I grew up with never left the state of Ohio, and yes, corn and cows are absolutely everywhere.
As I reflect on the experiences Boston University provided me, I think of the time Professor Nikolaev spent with me during orientation. Though I expected attentive professors, I never expected him to take the time to show me around campus and tell me stories, ask about my interests and invite me to attend the summer class he taught the following day. I felt important every time Professor Samons began his lectures with “Good afternoon, Scholars.” And I felt empowered when I walked into Professor Čulík-Baird’s office — a woman whose passion in her work inspired me to push myself a little further, to believe in my ability to write, speak and think at a higher level than I thought I could.
Classics, particularly at Boston University, did not just give me a degree. It gave me a platform on which to grasp my worthiness to take up space in an academic world that did not seem my own. It allowed me to explore and develop a profound commitment to uncovering the experiences of ancient women. And finally, the part I will take with me for the rest of my life: no person’s voice, no person’s story is too small not to matter. Growing up I was surrounded by people who would live and die without thinking their voice bore any consequence. However, the ancient world taught me that history is made every day by people whose names never appear in history books. Five years ago I consciously decided that my voice would matter, and without regard for the opinions of family or friends, I sailed to Troy. I never felt how imperative that was until Sappho told me. I made a decision that changed the course of my life forever, and no longer do I feel that leaving everything behind was irresponsible, out of my league, or just plain crazy.
I will end with just a few more words from Sappho, a female voice that persisted through centuries of countless wars, fires, patriarchies, regimes, cultures and ways of thinking. This is taken from Fragment 56, and it sums up exactly what I feel this institution has done for me:
Not one girl I think
Who looks on the light of the sun
Like this (Sappho, “Fragment 56” (Trans. Anne Carson))
Congratulations Class of 2019. Never be too afraid to sail to Troy if you really want or need to. This place, these professors, the friends we made have prepared us for the journey. Thank you all for listening.