by Malcolm Cooke ’21

Here we are, at the end of another year of The Words, which means it’s time to engage in the ritual of some parting reflective words as Senior Newsletter Editor. And let me tell you, it’s hard. It’s something that is hard to make sense of at the end of an exceptionally hard year. It is hard to gather my thoughts and hard to put them into words.

I knew from when I first arrived at Macalester that my senior year would be surreal to experience

Student-workers of yesteryear enjoying a Coffee House, Malcolm Cooke Crouching behind fireplace

on the most normal of terms, and that knowledge only grew more and more palpable as the ’21 I kept seeing stamped next to my name grew appalling closer to the current year. But I never could have anticipated the extent to which this year would go beyond the pale in its pandemonium. 

It has been hard to focus on school matters with the pall of global pandemic, to say the absolute least. The switch from class space to zoom space, and the cancellation of event after event that I was looking forward to experiencing for one final time.

Attention is drawn further from Macalester’s campus by the Twin Cities reckoning with deeply ingrained racism and police violence. The murder of George Floyd has opened a wound, internationally exposing the endemic police violence in Minnesota, and the nation at large. As the wound was torn freshly open with the police shooting of Daunte Wright and the guilty verdict in the Trial of George Floyd’s killer Derek Chauvin within just a week together, the ability to go about business as usual at Macalester has been all but completely demolished.

I don’t think I could talk about my final year at Mac without mentioning these dominating forces, which have occupied us with grief and distress for so much of this year. But also I don’t think I can talk about this year without discussing how we managed to deal with it and make it through to the other side. For me, a large part of that was simply trying to keep it together, and I don’t think I could have done that without the English Department.

Even in digitized form, weekly coffee houses have kept my feet firmly on the ground along with my webcam continuously on. Of course, the online form of Macalester and the English community is only a fraction of my experience with both. I’m saddened by the inability to meet with fellow English majors and minors over the copious amounts of food provided for every event. But even still, I’m deeply grateful that I’ve been able to hold space with them in a different form. For that, I have to give some people my thanks.

As we move into the Oscar speech thank you portion of my English Department recap, I want to affirm my genuine gratitude to these people. The English Department is a concentrated singularity of some of the absolute best people I have met at Macalester, and in my life and have shaped my experience at this school into what it was. I hope that when all of you get to see each other’s shining faces next semester, you’ll eat a bagel on bagel monday in my honor.

" "
English Department student workers, Malcolm Cooke on the left

A tour of thank yous has to start, of course, with my fellow student workers. I’m not sure I would have been drawn so fully into the English community in the same way without the privilege of working in Old Main, something that wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for past student workers and our department coordinator (who I’ll get to later) who brought me

on board. Previous senior newsletter editors Jen Katz and Alex Harrington, Sophie Hilker and Laura Bergland prepared this ground so incredibly well by putting together amazing articles monthly in the years leading up to my assumption of this position. I can only hope I managed to keep the engine running well as I pass on the inheritance to my fellow newsletter editors Kira Schukar, Alice Asch, and Dalton Greene, who I’m certain will blow everyone away with the absolute awesomeness of The Words next semester.

And of course, no description of the English Department would be complete without mentioning our intrepid and fearless department coordinator Jan Beebe. A miracle worker who in addition to her talents of making the trees grow, trains run on time, and wildflowers have their color, managed to ameliorate the deficiency of food at English Department events by providing us with mailed consumables and doordash gift cards. Jan is the beating heart of the English Department, which would surely disintegrate immediately without her stewardship.

And I haven’t even gotten to talk about the classes and professors yet. All of this speaks as to how broad and wonderful the English community is outside of class, but needless to say none of that would have a leg to stand on without the talented, extraordinary, and often transcendently hilarious professors of the English Department. Although I am endlessly thankful for my ability to be a part of the community of the English Department student workers, some of the most indelible memories I have of the English Department are of course from classes. 

I will remember Penelope Geng for putting together a helluva Capstone in an extremely short period of time of the module system, providing infinitely thoughtful feedback on our hastily assembled projects. I’ll remember spending an entire class period discussing the first sentence of Moby Dick with Jim Dawes and being awash in the vibrant theatre culture of the Twin Cities is our regular outings in Andrea Kaston Tange’s 

Photo of Cooke '21 in the English Department Library.

class. Although I’m certain I should mention the depth and breadth of the education I received, the honest thing that sticks out to me is that taking English classes is just supremely fun. I’ve enjoyed my time in class more than most things these past four years. My only regret is not taking more creative writing classes (mayhaps a reason to come back and audit; you haven’t seen the last of me, English Department!).

Of course, I have only mentioned a fraction of the wonderful people that make up the English Department. The subject holds so much talent from the countless people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, to the many more who will make the department what it is in the years to come.

I’ve received so much from the English Department and it has been a font of rejuvenation in the dark context of this year.

The only thing I can say is that I hope in response I’ve provided some good words.