Coming Full Circle in a Kenyon Universe
My son Jacob Pleasure, class of 2015, fell in love with Kenyon the summer before his senior year of high school during his two weeks at the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop. The beauty of the campus, the opportunity to study with like-minded young people, the fantastic young instructor inspiring him to write, the excitement of reading his sound-and-word-based poem — he said the instructor labeled it a “Hellmoffering” — aloud to a large audience; he was sold. He returned to his Maryland high school determined to go to Kenyon and worked harder at school than he ever had to make sure he was in the best position possible to be admitted, which, thank goodness, he was.
He loved his first-year English classes and kept writing on his own, intent on being an English major and creative writer. But as does and should happen throughout a liberal arts education, he discovered and fell in love with other courses in other departments. Certainty about his path turned to sometimes uncomfortable but always productive uncertainty as he developed interests he never knew he had in subjects he had never before encountered. In Jacob’s sophomore year, Professor Royal Rhodes’ “Global Religions” course — as well as Professor Rhodes himself — captivated him, and following another religious studies course, Jacob declared a religious studies major. As he entered his senior year, he declared an English minor, happy to be returning to the department.
In the meantime, his dad and I had gone through our own evolution, moving from Maryland to South Hadley, Massachusetts, a small town with a great independent bookstore, the Odyssey Bookshop.
The Odyssey hosts author talks several times a week, and I was excited to see that Daniel Torday, a Kenyon graduate from the class of 2000, was coming to talk about his new and widely acclaimed book, The Last Flight of Poxl West. I had told the bookstore’s owner I was especially interested since I have a son graduating Kenyon, so when I walked in to hear the presentation, she introduced me to the author as the mom of a soon-to-be Kenyon graduate. Daniel congratulated me and asked about Jacob’s major. When he heard it was religious studies, he said he had taken a number of courses in that department and loved them. “I assume you know Professor Rhodes, then, my son’s advisor?” I asked. He lit up and proceeded to tell me wonderful stories about Professor Rhodes, including the poems “Roy” writes and how they have maintained contact over the years. “Kenyon faculty stay with you,” he said.
After the reading, I bought Daniel’s book and asked him to sign it “To Jacob”; it would be one of his graduation presents. I was sure my son would love the book, I said, mentioning how Jacob fell in love with Kenyon during the summer writers program. Daniel said he had heard that many times — he had taught in that program and thought it was a great experience.
I talked to Jacob by phone a few days later and told him about the conversation and the lovely comments the author had made about Professor Rhodes. I suggested that next time Jacob saw Professor Rhodes, he should let his professor know about my encounter with Daniel Torday.
“Wait! Dan Torday?”
“Right. The author.”
“Mom, he was my teacher at the Kenyon summer writing program! That great guy I kept telling you about. Tell him I still carry the Hellmoffering around with me!”
I unfortunately missed the opportunity to explicitly make the connection between Jacob and Daniel at the Odyssey; I never mentioned Jacob's last name to Daniel, and Jacob had never told me his summer instructor's full name. Nevertheless, as Jacob leaves Kenyon and heads to City Year Miami, he will take with him a book signed by a Kenyon graduate and teacher who attracted him to Kenyon — and he’ll also carry four years of a profoundly transformative education provided by Royal Rhodes and all his other professors across so many disciplines. As Daniel Torday said, those Kenyon faculty stay with you.