by Elizabeth Ricketts
“It was a dark and stormy night” is not only a rather cliched opener to a suspenseful literary work but also an excellent way to describe the setting outside of the Reinsch Auditorium as the Marymount University Department of English hosted its annual English Night to celebrate the achievements of its students, especially this year’s graduates. As the rain battered the roof of the auditorium, English faculty, students, and guests were treated to a delightful program including talks by Dr. Marguerite Rippy, Department Chair, and alumnus Ed Aymar, M.A. 2011, before enjoying a delicious spread of cookies, fruit, sandwiches, and cake.
Dr. Rippy kicked off the event with a welcome address that not only recapped the events of the past year in the English department but also offered some advice to the graduating students. Dr. Rippy discussed how over the past year, Marymount’s English Department has been host to local scholars and visiting speakers–we welcomed speakers on Mark Twain, Vladimir Nabokov, and Edgar Allan Poe. Dr. Peter Donaldson gave the 2014 Bisson Lecture in the Humanities on the utility of digital projects to help students understand the many versions of Shakespeare, and this year’s Film Festival featured the cinema of the Middle East. Marymount English students presented at several research conferences–the Comparative Drama Conference, the Virginia Humanities Conference, graduate conferences at both Georgetown and William & Mary, and our own Student Research Conference.
In her words for graduating students, Dr. Rippy stressed the need for flexibility in the ever-changing job market but also to realize that research, reading, and writing skills translate well into many different contexts. Recent English graduates are involved with projects as varied as running a catering business, teaching English in China, doing freelance musical composition in Mumbai, and working with a literacy program in DC. Above all, Dr. Rippy emphasized the ephemeral nature of life, letting students know that it is OK to change course. She urged students to consider their values and the type of life that they want to live when thinking about what they want to do with their lives. Luckily, no one has to do this alone–Dr. Rippy reminded students that the supportive faculty of the Marymount English department will be there for them long after they graduate.
After the Chair’s address, it was time for student awards. Dr. Tonya Howe presented the first ever Sean Robert Hoare Thesis Award, which recognized the best Master’s thesis, to Ellen Kay. Ellen’s thesis, which she defended in Fall 2013, was titled “Grammar Instruction at the Community College: Does It Function ‘Functionally’?” and focused on how grammar is taught at 2 year colleges. Ellen’s thesis analyzed different pedagogies of grammar and how they served different student bodies. Dr. Sarah Ficke presented the Robert Reed Award, which acknowledges the best writing submitted to Magnificat. This award is named after Robert Reed, a longtime adjunct faculty member at Marymount in creative nonfiction and journalism. The two winners were rewarded because they combined literary analysis with personal reflection. According to Dr. Ficke, the authors “truly engaged with their subjects” and “walked away with a more profound understanding of those subjects.” Perla Gonzalez-Chavira won for her essay “To My Dutiful Loving Wife” and Kathryn Fossaceca won for her essay “On The Road: A Wasted Journey.” Dr. Katie Peebles gave out the Evelyn Ludlow Award, presented annually to the best research essay submitted in the English Senior Seminar course. Out of finalists Corinne Patterson-Stein, Melany Su, Anne Tulloch, and Angela White, it was Anne Tulloch’s “Brother Poet: Anonymous Franciscan Literary Tradition
and the Gawain-Poet” that earned her the award. Finally, Dr. Rippy took the podium again to present the Departmental Graduation Awards, given out to one outstanding undergraduate and graduate student in the department. Melany Su, who presented her Honors thesis work on disability studies and Tennessee William’s plays at the Comparative Drama Conference, took the undergraduate award, and Amy Flessert was the graduate winner. In addition to being an excellent Graduate Assistant, Amy distinguished herself academically by presenting her work at Marymount’s Student Research Conference and “Revisions & Amendments,” the 3rd Annual Interdisciplinary Humanities Conference at Georgetown University.
After the awards, the audience was treated to a delightful presentation by Marymount alumnus and author Ed Aymar (MA 2011) titled “The Balance Between Work and Creativity, and Also Some Crying.” Mr. Aymar gave a humorous and entertaining talk, speaking out against those who question the value of a degree in humanities and emphasizing the importance of never giving up. While he started out as a psychology major at George Mason, he ended up finishing college as an English major, realizing he should have been doing that from the beginning. Mr. Aymar cautioned the graduates that they should be mindful of the fact that even with a college degree they will start at the bottom. His first job, in fact, was answering phones. Mr. Aymar said that he realized that a career in an office wasn’t going to be fulfilling, so he started writing to make himself happy and then “books started to form.” Among the advice he gave to graduates was “it’s OK to fail,” noting that it took six years of writing on a nightly basis to finish his first novel, which was rejected by 90 out of 100 agents. Failure isn’t the end, he said; it opens doors and teach lessons. He concluded his talk with a reading from his book I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead.
The final part of the program was a celebration of newly hired and newly tenured faculty. Dr. Eric Norton, a specialist in American literature, was welcomed as a new full-time, tenure-track member of the faculty, and Dr. Amy Scott-Douglass, a Shakespearean scholar, received tenure in recognition of her teaching, scholarship, and service.
As the program concluded, attendees filed into the Lee Reception Room for delicious refreshments and conversation. Whether it was due to the “dark and stormy night” outside, the good food, or the pleasant company, most people lingered for quite a while enjoying the event. English Night 2014 was a great time for all who attended to celebrate the achievements of the English Department, its students, faculty, and alumni.