If you happened upon the Rathskeller patio on the evening of Thursday, Oct. 7, you would have been greeted with an unusual sight. Nearly 200 students, alumni, and faculty filled the usually empty outdoor seating area to its brim — but not to enjoy TGIT festivities.
Students sat on the window sills, hung over the fence, and shared seats as they gathered together, desiring to grow together as a community, hear from fellow students, and discover just a bit more about what many University of Dallas students love: literature.
The long weekend, thanks to Fall Reading Day, was kicked off with this seminar on “Beowulf,” at which four familiar faces of UD — senior Kolbe Costello, Alex Taylor, ‘15, junior Jacob Warila and Dr. Gregory Roper, alumnus and Interim Dean of Students — each gave a talk on what interested them, exhorted them, and stood out to them in the epic poem.
A number of years ago “Beowulf” was removed from UD’s Core class, Lit Trad I, amidst much discussion and discernment. This year, a few students and alumni decided that “Beowulf’s” departure from the Core did not require its departure from the minds of UD as a whole.
Alex Taylor, current adjunct professor, approached senior English majors Margaret Hamilton and Patrick Alvis to discuss the absence of “Beowulf” in the Core.
“Instead of complaining or griping, the initial response was, ‘well why don’t we read it?’” said Taylor.
The idea burst forward as Taylor began contacting his fellow alumni friends, student foundations, and the Campus Activities Board. As Hamilton said, “If there is something that you love, then there is probably a similar love in other people.”
According to Taylor, the donations received from alumni went directly to purchasing 150 copies of Seamus Heaney’s translation of “Beowulf.” Hamilton recruited people whenever she had the opportunity to hand out copies, the stipulation being that each recipient had to read the book before the seminar.
Students read. In the days leading up to the seminar you could find many students sitting at the Cap Bar or outside Braniff with stacks of books and notebooks for other classes on the table — and yet, their noses were in “Beowulf.”
Many people read “Beowulf’s” entirety in one sitting. Some people read aloud in groups. Still others worked methodically through the pages.
The Beowulf seminar brought together alumni, faculty and students in a unique way. The faculty and alumni helped very tangibly in making the seminar come to be by providing the funds for books as well as giving current students the opportunity to learn outside the classroom and unite over an epic which, though no longer in the Core curriculum, encourages thought and community.
Each speaker and orchestrator of the seminar posed differently during the talk: Costello puffed on a cigarette, Alvis sipped on beer, and Roper critiqued the pronunciation of Old English by reading an excerpt of the original in a sing-song manner.
Taylor emphasized that the UD tagline encourages students to become leaders. “I think that independent thinking goes a long way in producing student leaders,” he said.
UD, in its Core, encourages students to think independently in pursuit of the truth. This desire for knowledge, truth and thought is not intended to merely stay in the classroom. At the Beowulf seminar the crowd actively participated in the four different talks. Roaring laughter and shouts of encouragement flowed through the masses, and ten young men and a young lady, summoned by Roper, voluntarily acted out a scene from the book itself.
When introducing his talk, Roper said that he had two thoughts about the successful gathering: “This is the nerdiest possible association I could ever imagine, but this is also the coolest association of people I could ever imagine! This is what coolness is at UD.” The seminar embodied what UD encourages amongst its students.
Alvis noted how impressive the student participation was. He said, “It is unfortunate that [“Beowulf”] was taken out of the Core, but I think it shows that it is a gift that we get to read these books and hear great professors teach on them.”
Not only did the seminar allow students to lead other students on the great adventure of “Beowulf,” but as Alvis pointed out, it also motivated students to participate in the Core curriculum in a fresh and exuberant way.
The Beowulf seminar encouraged students to live vibrantly, fearlessly and intentionally. As the poem itself exemplifies, fear is not to be heeded and fame is not to be sought. Live well, live boldly and live for the right reasons; may we, in the words of Taylor, “revitalize tradition” through our efforts.