Scholarship and silliness found on Phi Beta Friday

By Aspen Daniels & Nick Krause

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Samuel Pate, above, performs Marc Antony’s famous Shakespearian monologue in honor of Phi Beta Friday. Photo credit Ellen Rogers.

The University of Dallas Chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, the Eta Chapter of Texas, celebrated the liberal arts Friday, March 24, with a roundtable discussion, poetry recitations, science presentations, musical and dramatic performances, and even a game of live chess on the Mall.

The five Phi Beta Friday event coordinators were senior Phi Beta Kappa members Elizabeth LaFrance, Emma Chaplin, Chrissy Craig, Mike Woodrum and Molly Wierman, with assistance from drama professor Stefan Novinski, president of the Eta Chapter.

“[It was] crazy, wonderful silliness and scholarship yoked together in a day,” Novinski said of the celebration.

“It’s a bunch of nerds coming together to have a good time,” Craig added.

The goal of Phi Beta Friday was for professors and students to share their love of the liberal arts  in a non-academic setting with both frivolity and gravitas, says Novinski.

“We don’t take ourselves seriously, but we take our pursuits very seriously,” Novinski said.

Phi Beta Kappa’s celebration began with a roundtable discussion about Russia and its contribution to the liberal arts community, which represents a unique blend of East and West.

Senior Emily Gams joined professors Irina Rodriguez, Dr. Matthew Post and Dr. Bainard Cowan. The discussion was moderated by Woodrum and focused on Russia’s literary and political eccentricity as neither Western nor Eastern.

All participants emphasized Russia’s exceptional national character, especially in relation to suffering, which Russians seem to peaceably integrate into their lives.

Because of the morning rain , the music and science departments used the shelter of Haggar to demonstrate musical and scientific experiments.

In the Gorman Faculty Lounge, senior Wierman moderated a poetry recital in which professors and students shared their original compositions as well as famous works in a wide variety of languages. Rodriguez read a patriotic poem in her native Ukrainian.

Virginia Misko, a sophomore who attended the poetry recitals, commented on Rodriguez’s passion.

“She [put] her heart and soul into it,” Misko said.

All the participants, who took advantage of the opportunity to share their favorite pieces, shared this passion.

Following the poetry recitals, a live chess match was played between freshman Adam Jace and mathematics professor Dr. John Osoinach on the Mall.

The theme of the match was humanities versus sciences, with members of each field representing pieces on the board.

Dr. Daniel Burns of the politics department and Dr. Paul Phillips of the math department served as the kings.

Eventually, a startling rook-bishop capture spelled the end of the sciences.

Jace would later credit his victory to his Sicilian Defense opening and the overextended pawn structure of his opponent.

Phi Beta Friday ended with a dramatic trip through the Core, moderated by LaFrance, from Homer and Aristophanes through the medieval play “Mankind” and Shakespeare soliloquies, ending with a live trailer from the upcoming Mainstage, “The Liar” adapted from Corneille.

The performances included the confrontation between Agamemnon and Achilles from Homer’s “Iliad”, played by Novinski and English professor Dr. Kevin Saylor, respectively. The latter ended the epic encounter by pounding his chest and striding away in mock rage to the applause of the large crowd gathered on the Mall.

Later, seniors Mary Shannon McFall and Michael Simmons gave a hilarious rendition of Aristophanes’ “Clouds,” which kept the crowd in stitches.

In a different vein, junior Samuel Pate delivered the funeral oration of Mark Antony from Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” from the Haggar balcony in a voice so cracked with grief one would have thought his best friend really was in the coffin. This was just one of the many talented soliloquies performed.

Of course, one can’t have a trip through the Core without the furies fom Aeschylus’ “Eumenides.” Senior Rachel Polzer played Athena, and a group of students dressed in black ran through the crowd, screaming in chorus for the blood of Orestes.

The grand finale was a swordfight from the upcoming Mainstage between senior Ed Houser and Pate. Speakers on the Mall played dramatic music as they swaggered toward each other, mock swords drawn.

“It was engaging,” sophomore Genny Jenkins said. “I loved the facial expressions, the playfulness in the swordplay.”

For Jenkins, the beauty of the drama was that it personified the [intensity] of the Core.

Following the event’s success, Novinski hopes that Phi Beta Friday will continue to grow and become another beloved UD tradition.

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