Spring Celebration of Graduating Students, 2020

Welcome to our annual Spring Celebration! I’m Dr. Howe, chair of the Department of Literature & Languages, and I’m really proud to be hosting this unconventional celebration of you, your accomplishments, and your bright futures. In normal years—whatever that means… we’re currently recognizing the contingency of “normal”—we do this in person, and we have food, free books, flowers, awards, personalized gifts, and lots of great conversation, including the opportunity to grill an alum who has returned from the field filled with experience and advice. This year, we’re going online (and we’re supporting the US Postal System while we do—so expect happy things in the mail, chosen especially for each of you by your faculty)!

I know this isn’t a great substitute for walking across the stage in your cap and gown, but I hope you find it meaningful. When I put out the call for celebratory videos to our alumni, I was deeply moved to see the results. It reminds me that we are a community, even in—maybe especially in—times of crisis. Several of your faculty have put together congratulatory videos for you, too, and our featured alumni speaker, Ashley Tucker (class of 2016) is here in electronic form to share her wisdom about life after graduation.

It feels like you’re alone on this journey now, but you really do have a network of support in us. I hope you’ll follow the department on social media, where you can find images and snippets from other alums and grads, and generally keep in touch with us.

It has been an interesting year, to say the least. In the fall, we couldn’t have imagined what was in store for us this term. We welcomed spoken word artist and public storyteller Regie Cabico to campus as our Bisson Lecturer in the Humanities; faculty took students to a number of plays and other events; we had two students—including one of our 2020 grads!—attend the inaugural Women’s Leadership Summit in Richmond; former creative writing faculty Katherine Zlabek returned for a reading from her new book of short stories; and so much more. Dr. K live recorded a talk on poetry of witness for the DelMarVa Public Radio; Dr. Rippy was honored with a research stipend for her work on Orson Welles; and Caren Colley-Trowbridge, who teaches French for us, earned an excellence in teaching award from the School of Design, Arts, and Humanities.

Since the COVID-19 lockdown, we’ve all learned a ton about time management, digital literacy, remote teamwork, and those key skills and attitudes about grit and persistence. We’ve also learned so much about the value of creativity and communication—in isolation, we come face to face with the work that art does. I hope you all continue to read, write, and explore, this summer and beyond. This is a challenging time to graduate, and it’s not what you expected; our economy today makes the prospect of entering the workforce even more daunting.

But, you have everything you need to flourish in the new world we’re entering. You’re curious, and you don’t take the party line at face value. You can write, you can research and distinguish good information from bad, you see the need we have for thoughtful, empathetic communication, you’re flexible and critical, and you can look at the world in creative, unconventional ways.

I won’t go into that all, though, because I really can’t do it any better than the alumni you’ll see tonight. So instead, I’ll get our unconventional Spring Celebration started with a poem, an example of the value of looking closely and finding just the right words to untangle the complexities of human experience.

This is a poem by Mary Oliver, an American poet who died in January of 2019, called “Starlings in Winter.” I chose it because it speaks to our reality now. We are individuals on our own, but also essential parts of a larger whole—the poem has a message of deep hope and resilience and taking inspiration from dark things into an unknown future.

Starlings in Winter

Chunky and noisy,
but with stars in their black feathers,
they spring from the telephone wire
and instantly

they are acrobats
in the freezing wind.
And now, in the theater of air,
they swing over buildings,

dipping and rising;
they float like one stippled star
that opens,
becomes for a moment fragmented,

then closes again;
and you watch
and you try
but you simply can’t imagine

how they do it
with no articulated instruction, no pause,
only the silent confirmation
that they are this notable thing,

this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin
over and over again,
full of gorgeous life.

Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,
even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;

I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
pumping hard. I want

to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.

Congratulations, Class of 2020. May you be improbable, beautiful, and afraid of nothing—may you go forth and think of dangerous and noble things.

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Fiction Reading with Katherine Zlabek

On March 2, 2020, fiction writer Katherine Zlabek joined us in the Barry Gallery to read from her new collection of short stories and discuss fiction and the writing life with Marymount students.

A native of rural Wisconsin, Zlabek holds an MFA from Western Michigan University and a PhD from the University of Cincinnati, where she was a Taft Dissertation Fellow and a recipient of an AWP Intro Journals Award. Her story collection, WHEN, winner of The Journal’s 2018 Non/Fiction Collection Prize, is now out from The Ohio State University Press. Her stories and essays have appeared in Boulevard,The Kenyon ReviewNinth Letter, and other journals. Ricochet Editions published her chapbook, LET THE RIVERS CLAP THEIR HANDS, in 2015. She currently teaches writing and literature at Gannon University in Pennsylvania.

Zlabek’s writing is tender and haunting, wonderful and strange. She brings the Midwest, a section of the country often overlooked and underestimated, onto the page with dignity and wonder. The stories are full of surprises that make us question everything we thought we knew. A bull’s heart cooking in a crockpot, the head of a black bear cub wrapped up in a crate in an abandoned house, images that seem magical but that are utterly grounded in the real world of her characters’ fascinating lives. The normal here is anything but normal, and as we move through their various stories we find ourselves drawn into the mystery and beauty that is our shared humanity.

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20th Anniversary Shades of Blue Student-Faculty Poetry Reading

Spring 2020 fittingly witnessed the 20th anniversary of the Shades of Blue student-faculty poetry reading! On February 19th, we were very proud to showcase work by poets, scholars, and students from the Marymount community, including Holly Karapetkova, Michael Boylan, Caroline Bock, Christina Clark, Phineas Anaba, Veda Frye, Kembry McNeil-Thompson, Hanan Seid, Kimbily Warner, and Susan Mockler. Congratulations to all our poets and readers!

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Estudiantes asisten al festival de flamenco

Por: Judy Ortega (en Inglés después del descanso)

El 14 de noviembre del 2019, asistí al Festival Flamenco en el Teatro Gala en Washington, D.C., con SP301 en Marymount. Como alguien quien disfruta sumergirse en la cultura España, este evento me animó a caminar al escenario y bailar con los profesionales. En el principio del evento, una banda de cuatro personas aparecieron en el escenario e inmediatamente tocaron lo máximo sonidos relajante de la guitarra que he oído. Mientras del guitarrista tocó su instrumento, el tamborilero empezó taconear su batería pequeña muy ligeramente y después, los dos cantadores empezaron a cantar. Estos individuos tenían lo cuerdas vocales más fuertes que he oído en mi vida. Sentí la fuerza en sus voces simplemente irradian a través del teatro entero. Luego, la bailarín Flamenco caminó elegantemente al escenario con una vestida impresionante, y el bailarín Flamenco perfectamente siguió. 

Durante de la noche entera, la mujer y el hombre movieron y bailaron sus cuerpos en formas diferentes cuales no pensé fue humanamente posible. Ambos de sus piernas movieron rápidamente a través del escenario entero hasta al punto donde sentí el tapping de sus zapatos emanan hacia el fondo de mi silla y hasta mi pecho. La mujer continuamente aparecía en vestidas muy bonitas y claramente mostraba la cultura España. Como alguien quien no le gusta ponerse vestidos, de verdad, quise probar por lo menos, un vestido y intentar baila el Flamenco! 

En el semestre de otoño del 2020, voy a estudiar en Madrid, España. ¡Una de mis amigas quién ya se graduó me motivó hacer el mismo programa y tomar la clase de Flamenco, entonces en el próximo año, voy a tomar la clase de Flamenco en España! Para tener la oportunidad y ver el baile de Flamenco en la vida real antes de estudiar y tomar la clase en España me aseguró que todo va bien porque estoy la persona quien no le gusta bailar en frente del público y bailar en general, pero después de este evento, quiero intentar este tipo de baila y no me importaría si bailé en frente del público.

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Marymount Majors at the VFIC Women’s Leadership Conference

By Kembry McNeil-Thompson

The only way to become a great leader is to take the next step.

English and Criminal Justice Majors Kembry (left) and Naiya (right) at the VFIC Women's Leadership Conference

English and Criminal Justice Majors Kembry (left) and Naiya (right) at the VFIC Women’s Leadership Conference

At the beginning of November, I found myself in Richmond, Virginia, with nearly a dozen other Marymount women, en route to participate in the first annual Women’s Leadership Conference hosted by the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges [VFIC]. The foundation is partnered with roughly 14 colleges and universities around the northern and northwestern Virginia area, and each of the universities sent a few recommended students to Richmond to represent them at the conference.

The women’s leadership conference spanned three days, each packed full of leadership sessions, socializing, professional development, and fun. Each day consisted of a number of engaging sessions on topics ranging from mindfulness to networking to being a woman in the workplace and more, as well as free time and icebreaker activities. Each session was delivered by a woman who was in a leadership position of her own, and some of the speakers were from the many companies that sponsored the event. There were opportunities to connect with a number of powerful, inspirational women, and there was also time to connect with people from your own school as well as others.

So much transpired over the course of those three days that it is hard to try to sum it up, but there are three major takeaways that I will not forget from my VFIC experience: 1) there is no one way to be a leader, 2) you must lead by example, taking care of yourself as you do others, and 3) there are opportunities, adventures, and memories around every corner. Being a leader encompasses so much more than what we previously grew up believing, and the only way to become a great leader is to take the next step.

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