Meet the Penn Classical Studies Class of 2021!

By Elizabeth Vo-Phamhi

 

Every year, we here at Discentes have sadly bid another graduating class farewell while happily celebrating their achievements by featuring some of our newest Classical Studies and Ancient History alumni. The recently-graduated Class of 2021 is unique – they completed their entire senior year remotely, yet they excelled. In this most isolating period in our lives, they showed remarkable resilience as they found creative ways to stay connected with our department and help bring us closer together, even as we sat scattered across the globe. We present here a series of profiles of this year’s newly graduated cohort. Please join us in wishing them all the best in their future endeavors! 

 

Christina Recto (Classical Civilizations)

What made you decide to study Classics?

Being a member of JCL and taking Latin classes were a big part of high school for me, so I had definitely considered minoring in Classics alongside my Neuroscience major. After taking my first couple of Classics courses [at Penn], I was hooked and set on majoring!

 

What’s one “real world application” of something you learned in classical studies that you never expected to use?

Classics has helped me develop a better sense of considering the history behind things. Taking Professor Rosen’s Greek and Roman medicine course helped me form a less static view of medicine through tracing its development in earlier centuries which is really useful in considering how the field will continue to advance and change in the future.

 

What was your favorite Classics course at Penn?

Hard to say – I’ve really enjoyed all my Classics courses! To name a few, Intro to Mediterranean Archaeology with Professor Bowes, History of Literary Criticism with Professor Copeland, and completing my independent study with Professor Ker!

 

Favorite Classics-related memory at Penn:

Taking a Classics course with one of my best friends – it was such a lovely experience walking down to College Hall for class and learning about mythology together!

 

One sentence of advice for your underclassmen in Classics:

Get involved with the community! I joined Discentes my junior year and got to meet and connect with other Classics majors which has been a wonderful experience. Also, the department offers so many interesting events that cover a broad range of interests, so there’s a niche for everyone!

 

A picture of you, your pet, or anything that sparks joy:

 

 

Cate Simons (Classical Languages and Literature)

What made you decide to study Classics?

I studied Latin in middle school and high school, and I just fell in love with the language. When I got to Penn, I became fascinated with Classical Studies as a discipline and the lenses through which it allows you to study the ancient world.

 

Favorite Classics-related memory at Penn:

Secret Caesar during our Classics Board holiday parties!

 

What is something you are looking forward to, or would like to do, next year?

Traveling and learning modern languages!

 

One sentence of advice for your underclassmen in Classics:

Definitely get involved with some of the undergraduate organizations like Classics Board, Discentes and Eta Sigma Phi! I’ve met so many amazing people because of them.

 

Kate Kelly (Classical Civilizations)

What made you decide to study Classics?

I fell in love with the Iliad when I first read it in high school. From there, I devoured Robert Graves’ Greek Myths and couldn’t get enough of Greek mythology.

 

What’s one “real world application” of something you learned in classical studies that you never expected to use?

Comparing the politics of the early Roman Republic to our current-day U.S. government made me realize just how little has changed regarding political motivation and ambition. 🙂

 

What was your favorite Classics course at Penn?

It’s a tie between Prof. Murnaghan’s “The Iliad and Its Afterlife” and “The Odyssey and Its Afterlife.”

 

What’s the most interesting Classics fun fact you learned while at Penn?

Daphnis and Chloe was the inspiration for The Princess Bride! And yet the novel is somehow still more ridiculous than the movie.

 

Favorite Classics-related memory at Penn:

While not technically Classics Department-related, meeting Madeline Miller at the Kelly Writers House with my son – who is a huge fan of hers – was a touching experience.

 

What is something you are looking forward to, or would like to do, next year?

After so many years of taking classes while also working full-time, I’m looking forward to having more free time! I’m also excited to start researching graduate programs.

 

One sentence of advice for your underclassmen in Classics:

Embrace the perspectives of non-Classics majors in your classes – improving the diversity of the field includes recognizing outside opinions!

 

Approximately how many times have people asked you “what’s classics” when you tell them what you study?

As someone who returned to college after many years away – countless times!

 

To you, who is the wackiest ancient figure and why?

Socrates … when you think about it, it’s really kind of funny that everything we know about him is from the writings of his students and peers. I like to imagine they would begin stories with, “So my friend Socrates … “

 

If you had to pick any ancient figure as your partner to conquer the world, who would you pick and why?

Alexander the Great, of course! He might not share much of the glory, but hopefully he’d still let me use the moniker “Kate the Great.”

 

A picture of you, your pet, or anything that sparks joy:

 

Christopher Williams (Ancient History)

What made you decide to study Classics?

I’ve always had an interest in Ancient History and wanted to be able to work on a dig site.

 

What was your favorite Classics course at Penn?

“Fall and Decline of the Roman Empire.”

 

To you, who is the wackiest ancient figure and why?

Alcibiades, mostly because the depictions of him are so negative.

 

If you had to pick any ancient figure as your partner to conquer the world, who would you pick and why?

Julian the Apostate. He was extremely dedicated to achieving his goals.

 

Jordan Tayeh (Classical Civilizations)

What was your favorite Classics course at Penn?

“Foreigners in Rome” was my favorite in terms of content covered, “Rhetoric and the Community” my favorite in terms of friendships made.

 

One sentence of advice for your underclassmen in Classics:

Hang out with your fellow classicists! Take full advantage of the connections you can create in a cozy department like ours.

 

Approximately how many times have people asked you “what’s classics” when you tell them what you study?

I tell them I study whatever I want to! (So long as it occurred roughly within a certain timeframe and geography, that is …)

 

To you, who is the wackiest ancient figure and why?

Daedalus. This man can invent wings capable of flight, but not heat resistant glue? Seems suspicious.

 

If you had to pick any ancient figure as your partner to conquer the world, who would you pick and why?

The Archangel Sandalphon. He’s tall (so tall it takes 500 years to walk across his body), so it would be pretty cool to sit on his shoulders and watch him stomp on things.

 

A picture of you, your pet, or anything that sparks joy:

 

Rachel Winicov (Classical Civilizations)

What made you decide to study Classics?

I took “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” with Profs. Bowes and Grey and was inspired by the kinds of questions they were asking of history. I saw them and thought: “I want to do this.”

 

What was your favorite Classics course at Penn?

“Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” with Kim Bowes and Cam Grey.

 

Favorite Classics-related memory at Penn:

Having gladiator fights in Laurie Ellen’s (CLST ‘19) backyard.

 

Approximately how many times have people asked you “what’s classics” when you tell them what you study?

98573485

 

To you, who is the wackiest ancient figure and why?

Simeon Stylites! He lived on top of a pillar, yelling at people and not eating or drinking.

 

If you had to pick any ancient figure as your partner to conquer the world, who would you pick and why?

John of Ephesus because he’d write about my conquests in an action-packed hagiography that I could use to proselytize the world.

 

Mati Davis (Classical Languages and Literature)

What made you decide to study Classics?

I read the Percy Jackson series in 5th grade and it has been a passion ever since.

 

What’s one “real world application” of something you learned in classical studies that you never expected to use?

I learned about relational databases in a Digital Archeology class and I’m now using them in pursuit of a Computer Science Master’s degree!

 

What was your favorite Classics course at Penn?

There are too many, but “Last Days of Pompeii” is one of the best.

 

What’s the most interesting Classics fun fact you learned while at Penn?

According to Catullus, Romans used to brush their teeth with urine.

 

Favorite Classics-related memory at Penn:

Any time spent in the 2nd floor Claudia Cohen Hall lounge with Classics friends.

 

What is something you are looking forward to, or would like to do, next year?

I’m looking forward to still being at Penn and skulking around Cohen Hall for another couple of years.

 

One sentence of advice for your underclassmen in Classics:

Don’t restrict yourself to one aspect of Classics. Try Greek/Latin, archaeology, philosophy, history, literature, and more.

 

Approximately how many times have people asked you “what’s classics” when you tell them what you study?

If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me that question, I wouldn’t need to get another degree. I usually say “the study of Greco-Roman culture.”

 

To you, who is the wackiest ancient figure and why?

Caligula, because he made his horse a consul and declared war on the ocean (if Suetonius is correct…)

 

If you had to pick any ancient figure as your partner to conquer the world, who would you pick and why?

Alcibiades because it would be a wild ride.

 

A picture of you, your pet, or anything that sparks joy:

 

 

Our Recent Graduates’ Fresh Takes on Age-Old Questions:

 

 

 

Elizabeth Vo-Phamhi is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania studying Classical Studies and Cognitive Science.

 

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