by Jen Katz ’19
I remember when I first learned that I would be a part of Macalester’s class of 2019 way back in the dinosaur days of 2015, and thinking how impossibly far away that date sounded. The year 2019 felt like some mythical horizon that I would never actually cross. But here we are: it’s May of 2019 and my time in the English department is coming to an end. I’m still not convinced that I haven’t been trapped in some nightmarish science-fiction novel.
I came to college knowing that I would likely pursue an English major, but I dragged my feet at first. In the style of a true liberal arts student, I felt like I should take advantage of the wide variety of subjects made available to me. But when I took Professor Penelope Geng’s Intro to Shakespeare course in the spring of my first year, I was sold. Our discussions were livelier, our readings more interesting, and the academic standards higher with Professor Geng than in any other class I had taken. I remember sitting outside on a stunning spring day writing my final paper on King Lear and thinking that this kind of excitement must be what college was for. I declared my major the next fall.
Since then, I have had the privilege of taking a wide variety of courses in the department that have broadened my literary interests and given me a framework to talk about writing that I will take with me no matter what I do. Examining Marianne North’s botanical paintings and travel journals in Professor Andrea Kaston Tange’s 19th-Century British Literature class opened my eyes to new forms of literary analysis. Learning narrative journalism with Visiting Professor Stephen Smith taught me an entirely new style of more conversational writing. Professor Geng’s Shakespeare Studies course helped me connect my minor in Religious Studies to The Merchant of Venice. And so on, and so on. What remains constant across all of these classes and more is the astounding and inspiring passion that each of my English professors has brought to their class. I have always felt like my professors believe in my potential to think and express interesting thoughts, even when I lack that confidence in myself.
While I loved my English classes, I barely spent any time in the department itself until I was hired as a newsletter editor for The Words as a junior. It is no exaggeration to say that my time at Macalester became infinitely more fun and meaningful when I started working here that fall. I had the opportunity to meet and interview fascinating Macalester English alumni like food writer Amy Thielen ’97 and Graywolf Press executive editor Jeff Shotts ’96 while collaborating with my fellow student editors on their articles every month. When the newsletter arrived in our inboxes, we could stand back to look at our work and see a final product that we were all proud to have created together.
But even more than the work itself, what has been most special to me about working here are the fantastic people who make the English department so welcoming. Department coordinator Jan Beebe, of course, is the warm sun around whom the rest of us revolve in the office. Her indelible cheer and compassion make coming to work a joy, even on the dreariest of days. Jan’s hard work has made countless events from Pop Talks to First Thursday sessions to Treat Nights to dozens of search committee meetings resounding successes. She has created an environment where all of the student workers feel like we are a part of a community. I am beyond grateful for all of the friends I have made through the department, especially my fellow Newsletter Editors: my brilliant mentor Zeena Fuleihan, Laura Berglund, Sophie Hilker, Miriam Moore-Keish, and my incomparable fellow Senior Newsletter Editor Alex Harrington. I’m so proud of the work we’ve done and even prouder to call you all my friends.
It’s hard to overstate how much I will miss this place, but I will always have the skills that I learned here and the connections that I made. So, here’s to curiosity and the joy of learning. Here’s to finding your community. Here’s to goodbyes, and here’s to new beginnings.