Author Archive for: ‘John Syme ’85’

Reunion Weekend: It’s About Time, It’s About Space, It’s About… Class!

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Reunion Weekend is all about what Davidson alumni have in common: A wonderful place in a wonder-filled time of our lives. And what a time and place Reunion Weekend is, for coming back and sharing present love and laughter about past moments sublime and intervals hilarious, good food and drink and late-night moments reminiscing about that time…. well, you remember.

One of Reunion’s richest offerings in recent years, “Back to School,” has also helped me see our commonalities (and our particularities) more universally as well. Here are three examples from recent Alumni Reunion 2014 “Back to School” classes (“All the rigor, none of the tests!”):

• William Ferris ’64 gave a multimedia tour of his book The Storied South. Ferris’s friend, the late Eudora Welty, graces the cover of his book of interviews with scholars, writers, musicians, photographers and painters from his own long career, storied in itself from Ole Miss to Chapel Hill. The book includes a companion CD of original interviews and a DVD of original film. Ferris’s Reunion Weekend class was so popular, he gave it again the next hour to overflow “students”!

As old-school as the presentation felt in all the best ways, it also brought the best of technology to bear in a suitably fully wired Chambers classroom, too.  “Technology moves the concept of what a book is to a whole new level. It gives a whole new meaning to the classroom, too. I backed into this (interest in music) in a non-academic way, learning to play guitar in the basement of the KA house here—and a lot of people never forgave me,” he said to laughter.

Ferris, a former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, said the liberal arts perspective is as important as ever. “You build that in the classroom. There are very few places that do that as well as and on the scale of Davidson.”

• Laura McCarthy ’94 offered an entrepreneurial look at her personal and professional passion: teaching yoga to homeless, incarcerated and/or addicted men in the Charlotte region. With a history degree, a fine arts degree and a working artist’s studio, McCarthy said she came to a place in life of lines blurred with underlying purpose, where yoga and critical analysis of demographic numbers on incarceration and addiction led her to begin offering yoga for male populations in trouble.

“Being entrepreneurial has gone viral,” said the whiteboard behind her, a quote President Carol Quillen had recently used in her Huffington Post blog. McCarthy’s yoga business Svaraj has gone viral, recently gaining official non-profit IRS status and currently offering yoga at some eight different settings per week.

“Body and breath will tell you where your mind is functioning from; below the level of the mind is the objective functioning of neurology,” McCarthy said. She repeated an acronym familiar in her work with Swaraj, which means “self-rule.” “SOBER stands for Stop, Observe, Breath, Expand, Respond…. One of my favorite days was when I came in for the weekly class, and one of the prisoners in recovery said to me, ‘That breathing s— really works, Laura!”

Sheri Reynolds ’89

• Sheri Reynolds ’89, a successful author early and often since graduation, had a packed house rolling on the floor—literally, we ran out of chairs—at the ribald passages she read from her latest book, The Homespun Wisdom of Myrtle T. Cribb. Why, it even came with a parental warning (the class, not the book)!

It’s notable that the three classes I attended were offered by different vintages and varietals of Davidson alumni, yet I had something in common with each. For instance, my mom and Bill Ferris share the native state of Mississippi, and he knew my grandfather. As for Laura, like her I’m a yogi, too, and I asked her to go to a local yoga class with me the next day. And Sheri? Oh, Sheri, you tell it, in the words of your  1995 essay of campus observances from the vantage point of the Old Well—where nearly all of us have sat, and many will again on Reunion Weekends to come:

“I didn’t know music or the woman singing. I didn’t sketch, know much about Euclid or birds. But I knew about brick, and I knew about ivy, and I knew they made a marvelous combination for the Davidson community—a foundation so secure, but a willingness to grow into ourselves, a willingness to open and thrive. And I’d listen to those church bells chiming into the night, each not separate at first, as we are, but coming together to count the time. At Davidson, we can be different, and we can still be magically joined. We can grow like ivy from the same strong roots, sprouting off anywhere as we circle the fountain, harmony in a thousand shades of green.”

 

One Day Challenge TODAY: All In For Davidson!

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Any reason is a good reason to support Davidson: It’s the same as it ever was, it’s different than it ever was, and none of it is cheap.

Today’s one-day challenge, All in for Davidson, is a chance to focus each of our unique glimmers of gratitude through Davidson’s stellar annual-giving participation rate for the whole alumni body, as well as through the college’s bottom line:

“Help us reach 500 gifts by noon Wednesday and The Fund for Davidson will receive an additional $100,000 from a group of alumni and parent challengers!” says the All in for Davidson page. [This just in: Word up the line is that new challenge money is appearing for a next round, soon to be announced. Stay tuned to the All in for Davidson page for the latest updates!]

My own appreciation for what Davidson offered me as a student—all of it—has only grown in the post-graduate time I spent away from the bosom of alma mater. And it’s grown even more after my return to the green, green grass of home as a staffer in 2001. Why, today I have gratitude in areas where I didn’t even used to have areas!

So, what’s at the heart of your own Davidson experience, as it shows up in your life today? Visit the “All in for Davidson” page linked above, call the one-day-challenge “celebrity call center” at 704-894-GIVE, visit the college’s social media hub, or tweet using hashtag #allinfordavidson to share in the conversation and the challenge. Happy All in For Davidson Day!

Words Matter, and Student Translators Have “Mercy”

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“Lovers of world literature,” invoked the end-of-semester calendar announcement, “consider attending Polyglossia, a public reading of works translated by members of the Davidson College seminar ‘Theory and Practice of Literary Translation.’… Refreshments will be provided.”

Words, I thought to myself, matter. Ditto refreshments. That night, the happy babble of scholarly polyglossia filled the Carolina Inn, as students and professors in evening attire mingled over champagne, sparkling cider and hors d’oeuvres. The air conditioner finally caught up with the crowd about the time seats were taken. Perfect.

“Everyone in this room is guilty sometimes of forgetting that we are perpetually at the mercy of translators—always!” said Associate Professor and Chair of Classics Keyne Cheshire, who co-taught the class with Associate Professor of French and Francophone Studies Caroline Beschea-Fache.

The Polyglossia chapbook cover, produced by students and Sharon Broome at Central Services. Click to enlarge.

Just think about that: In any language, we are indeed at the mercy, at some point, of some translator, somewhere. This night in the Carolina Inn, six Davidson students rose to offer some details of just how.

They worked from across a diverse range of traditions: a wartime radio address delivered by De Gaulle from London; a previously untranslated 1992 Gamoneda poem from Spain; a page of idiosyncratic screenplay from the recent French blockbuster The Intouchables; a ribald Roman comedy by Plautus from the first century B.C.E.; an ambiguous Greek ode by Sappho six centuries before Plautus; and a feminist revolutionary’s poem in Chinese about an early 1900s visit to Japan.

Just as telling as the original readings and translations were the students’ commentary on their projects, collected in a handsome chapbook. A sampling:

• “To complicate matters, cárdenas does not correspond directly to any color in English…. And while I believe that ‘purplish lilies’ is the best option, it still is far from perfect. Alas.” —Peter Bowman ’16, on Antonio Gamoneda’s “Book of the Cold”

• “Rather than carrying over de Gaulle’s repetition as it appears in French (which reads clumsily in the word-for-word English translation), I employed a more conventional form of Anglicized repetition common to oration.” Taylor MacDonald ’15, on de Gaulle’s “Appel du 18 juin”

• “In addition to subtitling-specific obstacles, translation of this scene poses the problem of cultural differences in humor….Translating slang was the second major hurdle.” —Anita Richardson ’16 on The Intouchables

• “The colloquial language, frequent expletives, and improper grammar in my translation echo Plautus’ lowbrow language.” —Bri Lazenvnick ’15 on Casina

• “I learned to understand that there is no literal translation in Chinese, or at least not for Qiu Jin’s classical, elevated, symbol-ridden verse.” —Jessie Li ’15 on “Thoughts During a Visit to Japan”

• “Sappho’s verses once filled nine books, but today, only one complete poem exists…. These verses, beautifully arranged according to a strict Sapphic meter and the melodic sounds of their words, were also once sung, but the music is gone as well. Instead of counting these facts as true losses, I took them as opportunities to play with the words themselves.” —India M. Watkins ’15 on Sappho’s “Fragment 31”

Yes, words matter, and, indeed, we are perpetually at the mercy of translators. Thanks for the thoughtful take on that reality!

 

Perspective for Exams: Twenty-Four Hours Solo Camping

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Over coffee the week before exams, Elizabeth Welliver ’16 mentioned a Davidson Outdoors trip she was helping organize for the next day, for eight students each to spend 24 hours in solitude at campsites in the woods near the college. The week before exams, right? Wow. Kudos! Here’s what one of them had to say upon his return:

I am Santiago Navia, a first-year from Colombia, and Elizabeth told me you were interested in hearing about our experience during the Solo trip last weekend.

 

I wanted to clear my mind and discover what thoughts were wandering about my head without me noticing. Finals is a busy time of the year, so I though in order to compensate the stress that they provoke, I would relax and enjoy the peace that nature can provide.

 

I thought constantly about humans and their place in nature. We are but one species and a part of nature itself, but we have developed a sense of superiority that provides us with the justification for our exploitation of our planet. Even if we think of ourselves as at the top of the food chain, we are really on the bottom of nature’s priority since no species depend on our existence to survive. Remembering that we are a part of nature is key so that we can live in harmony with it rather than in constant war against it.

 

Hope this helps!

 

Santiago

 

Kind of puts exams in perspective, doesn’t it?

Pictures of Happy Students with Happy Dogs

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Sometimes you just need to sit on the floor and play with a dog. Or dogs, in the case of the growing tradition of a “Puppy Extravaganza” at exam time! I was glad to be there getting jostled with my trusty point-and-shoot. Click pics to enlarge.

Dean Rusk International Studies Program: Dracula in Romania, Malaria in Africa, Memories in France

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It can be tough to choose from among the many offerings on the Davidson campus calendar, but it’s always worth poking around there. Recently, I gravitated toward a couple of talks sponsored by the college’s Dean Rusk International Studies Program, a result of that office’s partnership with the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting’s Campus Consortium.

Cox in front of “Dracula’s” Bran Castle in Romania

• Dracula tourism in Romania pique your interest? Jonathan Cox ’14 had the topic covered in a recent afternoon presentation in the Dean Rusk International Studies Program’s student lounge. Cox, who grew up in Romania, among other places, detailed a spirited (but not bloody—yet?) debate in that country about the desirability of basing tourism on a literary myth that originated in Yorkshire, England. Cox’s work was funded with an Abernethy Grant, he said, and he has an article under contract with Verge Magazine: Travel With Purpose. Working title: “Dracula Tourism and Its Reluctant Stakeholders: Romania’s Love-Hate Relationship with Its Hometown Vampires.” Cox also has received funding through Dean Rusk for India-based work through the Pulitzer Center that got picked up by The New York Times and beyond.

Clickable

• A few days after Cox’s presentation, New York-based science journalist Amy Maxmen graced the same space. She writes about medicine, health, neuroscience and evolution for outlets that include NatureThe ScientistScience NewsPsychology TodayCell and the Lancet. She gave students a globe-trotting reporter’s-eye view as a preview for her talk that night, “Tracking Malaria in Africa.” How did a Harvard Ph.D. in evolutionary biology go from marine biology to freelance international journalism? Jealousy, she said, of the reporters who used to come interview her: “They waltzed in and learned all the cool stuff, then waltzed back out again.” Maxmen said she learned on the journalism job by sharpening her “beginner’s mind” skills, learning to ask and re-ask questions, and always paying attention to crucial cultural differences when abroad. No better message to deliver at Davidson, where approximately 80 percent of the student body study, travel, work or perform service in another country.

Pi Delta Phi inductees, April 16, 2014. Click to enlarge.

• On a personal note, moi-même was one of those study abroad students 30 years ago, when the French Junior Year Abroad program was in Montpellier on the Mediterranean coast, where I still regularly visit my “French family.” Talk about lifelong learning! The French study abroad program, now based in Tours, turns 50 next year, pioneer that it was in 1964 for Davidson study abroad programs to follow in other farflung locales.

Moi-meme, 1984ish, home from JYA France with a new sense of hair stylin’.

I was reminded of all this yesterday as I accepted honorary membership in Pi Delta Phi Société d’Honneur Française, alongside a cadre of proud students of French whose esprit de corps and joie de vivre harked me back to my own school days as a French major. At that time, it should be disclosed, I was not inducted into any honor societies, French or otherwise, but I was proud to be among these students yesterday.

La nostalgie? Mais oui! I have already checked my frequent flyer point balances and begun daydreaming of my next trip. Vive la France!

The Big Read: Fahrenheit 451 Discussions at Summit on Campus and North Regional Library

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Fahrenheit 451, the classic Ray Bradbury tale of a bleak, dystopian future seen from the vantage point of early post-World War II America, hit home for me—I who make a toner-stained living putting words together on paper or a reasonably pixellated facsimile thereof—when I saw a fascinating Aquila Theatre Company production on campus in January, courtesy of Davidson’s Artist Series.

Again now, as I join readers countywide gearing up for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library’s “Big Read,” a weeklong series of events and discussions around the book April 13-19, I am struck by the enduring relevance and power of this book’s messages. Long after the Heartbleed bug is history, we’ll be talking about Fahrenheit 451‘s enduring themes of freedom and censorship, television and reading, technology and humanity, figurative fires and true love of literature….

Opportunities of note to be involved in the Big Read:

Summit Coffee on Campus, Tues., April 15, 5–6:15 p.m.—Daybook Davidson, a community ambassador for the Big Read, is placing “house” copies of Fahrenheit 451 at Summit Coffee’s campus location, courtesy of the public library’s Ellen Giduz. Drop in for a cuppa and curl up with a good, old-fashioned book—or, go on, read it digitally and ironically. Either way, it’s a quick read as well as engrossing. Then, plan to come on down to Summit Coffee on campus for informal, semi-guided discussion from 5 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. on Tuesday, April 15. All are welcome! For more information, call John at 704-894-2523.

• North Regional Library, Huntersville, Thurs., April 17, 6–7:30 p.m.—Davidson’s own Leland M. Park Director of the Library Jill Gremmels will co-host one of The Big Read‘s four big regional talks on the book. There will be many additional events at libraries throughout the county, including several at the Davidson Public Library.

Reptile Day 10 a.m.–1 p.m., Saturday, April 12!

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Reptile Day is 10 a.m.–1 p.m. Saturday morning in the Blanche Knox Parker Garden between Dana and Watson science buildings (next to Davidson College Presbyterian Church). Special guest on Saturday: Carmelita the 16-foot python—come one, come all!

“I’m okay with this, nothing to it.” With Brie Bowerman ’17 (photo Robert Abare)

If you love reptiles, you may have already marked your calendar. Now, I don’t not love reptiles, but to help drum up my own excitement for Reptile Day I scheduled a visit with the event’s outreach coordinator Brielle Bowerman ’17. Well: Excitement is not a word that does justice to holding a great big Eastern King Snake, feeling its soft, cool, underbelly scales glide along your neck as it flicks its forked tongue in your face to say hi. I’m glad I did it. That means more people will have a chance to do it on Saturday, since I do not feel a need to do it again.

“Hello to you, too!” (photo Robert Abare)

If snakes aren’t your thing, there will be other “herps” on hand Saturday, from the herpetology lab of Professor of Biology Mike Dorcas, whose work with the invasive Burmese Python population in Florida’s Everglades has garnered national atttention. There will also be visiting herps from other entities in the region both institutional and individual. Herps include snakes, turtles, alligators, frogs and lizards, oh my.

 

 

 

Max Polley: A Passion for Things We Should All Care About

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I attended today’s memorial service for Professor Emeritus of Religion Max Eugene Polley.

True to form, Max had made sure the scripture cited was clearly labeled Hebrew or Greek, that the theology was solid, that the resurrection was proclaimed. He did this through his son Vance Polley ’79, a Presbyterian minister.

Vance Polley made clear that his “words of remembrance” were just that, and not a formal homily. Homilies, his dad Max felt strongly, should adhere to strict guidelines of scriptural context and theological purity, as noted above. Vance, in his turn, felt strongly that he needed a little more rhetorical room than that to speak of his dad’s passion for Davidson, for the Presbyterian Church, for the Davidson Community Players, for his family and his friends assembled.

Max Eugene Polley, 1928-2014

We learned that the word “theater” means “a place of seeing.” We learned something of Max’s take on the personal side of his own life’s work from the hymnal: “The God of Abraham Praise,” “Be Thou My Vision,” and “For All the Saints.” We learned that Max tested his Humanities lectures at the family dinner table in the 1960s.

For that last, I am personally grateful: Max had gotten pretty darn good at Humes by the time he convinced me, his callow freshman advisee, not to drop it after fall term 1981. “So broad!” I complained. “Just so!” he countered. He told me to stick with it one more term and see, knowing full well that I would be past any realistic point of no return by then. For that auspicious guidance I have remained grateful, as I am grateful for both the breadth and depth he brought to my Davidson education, still ongoing, and for the many learned and good-natured chuckles we shared since 1981.

And I am especially grateful for the phrasing Vance Polley used in remembering his father’s passions for his community, his college, his church, his beloved theatrical stage: “He wasn’t just passionate about things he cared about. He was passionate about lifting up things we should all care about.”

Thank you, Max, for sharing your “place of seeing.”

 

LGBT at Work: Alumni Panel on Campus Life and Careers

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I participated in a panel discussion on sexuality and career issues held earlier this week at the Multicultural House, sponsored by the Dean of Students Office and the Center for Career Development.

left to right: Andrew Spainhour ’93, Brad Johnson ’94, John Syme ’85, Heather McKee ’87 (photo: Shea Parikh ’16)

First, a nice dinner at Brickhouse Tavern with fellow out gay and lesbian panelists Andrew Spainhour ’93, Brad Johnson ’94, Heather McKee ’87 and organizers Becca Taylor ’06 from Dean of Students and Jamie Johnson from Careers.

Later, some dozen or so students sprawled on the couches of the Multicultural House while we four panelists perched on stools up front. We told what campus gay life (or the lack thereof) was like back in the day, how that felt then, and how it feels now to be talking with students openly questioning issues of sexuality rather than questioning (or not) secrets (closed or open) as in days of yore.

Each panelist talked about how issues around sexuality had played out in our early careers and choices, and our current ones. And we answered sharp questions from sharp students, about tokenization, social relations and legislation; about closets and pronouns and dreams.

“In light of Amendment One, do you feel like people should leave North Carolina?” one student asked, putting a fine point on a broad-ranging conversation about North Carolina politics.

“I think the only way to win is to stay and fight,” Heather serenely concluded after a a full and thoughtful response. (Happy side note: Heather married her classmate, U.S. Navy Capt. Jane Campbell ’87, on a Pearl Harbor Day visit to Hawaii in December!)

Have you ever considered, asked another student, going back into the closet for a career choice?

“I would never dream of going back to a place where I would have to hide,” said Andrew. Brad added a pithy note that the “pronoun game” many gay people used to play, and some still do, when talking about their personal lives at the office is, in a word, tedious. And disagreeable for any number of other reasons, we all agreed.

That said, I added that it’s never a mistake for anybody—gay, straight or in between—to err on the side of caution when sharing personal details in any professional setting. It’s a fine and shifting line to walk, between the world we  live in and the world we want to live in.

Bonus note: Becca offers for your consideration this current survey for LGBTQ alumni by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators. “While it’s not coming from Davidson directly,” she says, “the information gathered on this survey could be very useful to us in the future.”

 

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