Dr. Virginia Craighill
On May 14, 2017, the first class of Finding Your Place, Sewanee’s innovative interdisciplinary first-year program directed by Professor Deborah McGrath, will graduate.
On August 11, 2013, I and six of my colleagues in classics, biology, philosophy, religion, geology, and history began a thirteen-day non-stop marathon of teaching, hiking, lecturing, and basically spending almost every waking moment with 150 freshmen who chose to come to Sewanee early. None of us had ever done anything remotely like this before. It was exhausting and invigorating.
As an English professor, I can safely say that caving, Perimeter Trail hikes, and field trips to Beersheba Springs are not generally on my syllabus. I have never taken a biology or geology course in my life, though I took psychology at Sewanee, but as I walked through Shakerag Hollow the other day, I reflected on how much I have learned from my FYP colleagues. I can now identify trees and flowers, even poison ivy, and I can name the rock layers make up the plateau, and tell you how it came to be. More than just enriching my own education, my colleagues have given me new ideas about teaching and new lenses through which I can view the world.
And so have my students from FYP 2013, the 15 in my section, 10 of whom will walk on May 14, and others I came to know subsequently. After 13 days of being with this unusually bright and spirited group, 13 days in which we all experienced firsts such as hiking to and through Solomon’s Temple, standing too close to the edge at Stone Door, and visiting local cemeteries and Lost Cove, I had to drop my own child off for her first year of college in Maine.
I flew back on the first official day of classes and was 30 minutes late for my FYP class, though they had been forewarned. I found the students already deeply engaged in a discussion on essays by Annie Dillard and Barry Lopez. I took a seat, took out a notebook, and let them keep talking. This is what I had come to expect: my FYP students were motivated, open, fair-minded, and intellectually curious, and they didn’t need me to guide them anymore.
However hard it was to leave my daughter at college that day, I realized that watching these students develop intellectually and emotionally throughout their four years at Sewanee would be like watching my own child, and that has been a great comfort. I also taught other FYP students in English 101, and these too became students I’ve remained close to.
But now it’s time to say good-bye to all of those who have helped change the landscape of Sewanee for the better – in the Wick and in the Writing Center, by their work on Sewanee’s Volunteer Fire Department, on The Purple, and on the Honor Council. By their efforts on behalf of the environment, through their creativity, their advocacy, their leadership, and not the least by their friendship, their humor, and their kindness. You are exceptional individuals who have far exceeded our expectations. I imagine you will continue to do so long after you leave Sewanee.
Congratulations to FYP 2013. We will miss you.