Success Stories

Learning from the ancients

Donna St. Louis

People often forget that so much of our culture today has been shaped from the classics of yesterday. That's a lesson that is not lost on Grand Valley State University classics student Donna St. Louis

As the recipient of the $1,000 Manson A. Stewart scholarship for 2009 by the Classical Association of the Middle West and South, St. Louis has a passion for a discipline that she explains as being “full of surprises.”

The essay for the scholarship was a response to a prompt regarding a Maureen Dowd New York Times column about how classics are making a comeback. The students were asked whether or not they agreed and to explain how people can use the classics in everyday life.

For the essay, St. Louis wrote about the ancient Roman philosopher Seneca and how the lessons provided in his writing can be useful for modern Americans to consider. A particularly powerful quote that St. Louis used was tied into Seneca’s idea that philosophy is integral to life: “Philosophy has the single task of discovering the truth about the divine and human worlds.  [It] has taught men to worship what is divine, to love what is human, telling us that with the gods belongs authority, and among human beings fellowship.”

St. Louis added: “I think that it is an especially powerful message for today because all of the conflict not only outside the country, but within; it’s always a good idea to step back and remember that even if you don’t agree with someone, you should still respect his or her humanity.”

An appreciation for languages led St. Louis to studying Latin and eventually the classics.

“I’m definitely a language person; it’s always a thrill to study the works in their original languages,” St. Louis said.

St. Louis discovered just how fascinating the literature, culture and philosophy of the classics could be; and the more she studied them, the more she could really see the impact that the classics have on the modern world.

“I originally wanted to be a literature major, but then I figured what better way to study literature than to study the classics: study what (Edgar Allen) Poe studied, what Shakespeare knew like the back of his hand,” St. Louis said. “Classics are more useful than people tend to believe. It’s the perfect complement to any major: As we like to say, the ancients did it first.”

by Abby Hartig

This story was filed with the tags: Awards, Classics, Scholarships