Undergraduate Alumni

former classics & ancient studies majors share their stories

Annie Hoopes, MD

​​​​​Adolescent Medicine Physician, Kaiser Permanente Washington

I had the good fortune of landing in the Classics program at Wash U as a freshman - a thankful complement to my large, often impersonal pre-medical courses. I fondly remember round table discussions of Thucydides with Professor Pepe and getting to know Horace (on poetry) with Professor Keane. A number of my Classics professors encouraged me to apply to the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies in Rome, which was truly a life-changing experience and the highlight of my college experience. I returned to Saint Louis my senior year inspired to take on an analysis of the literary portrayal of Emperor Domitian’s architecture program as my honors thesis project under the mentorship of Cathy Keane.

The Classics department was my “home” in college – a place where my professors demonstrated a genuine love for teaching, passion for their subject matter, and a support for students. While my studies have taken me far from Classics into medicine, I have no doubt that the persuasive writing and speaking skills, my love of literature, and the technical language skills born from Latin which subsequently facilitated my study of Italian and Spanish, are products of the superb education I received as a Classics major at WashU.

 

Melissa Freilich

Director, Fight Choreographer, and Teacher; MFA candidate in Performance Pedagogy, Virginia Commonwealth University

The morning before my students took the AP Latin exam (my final morning with them before I left town for another teaching job and they went off to prom and graduation) I struggled to find the right words. How could I explain to them the effect my classical education has had; why I valued the study of Latin despite the fact that I am pursuing a career in theatre; why they should continue their studies? I had stumbled into this job teaching a high school Latin class almost by accident when looking for Latin tutoring work that would leave my evenings free to pursue my career as a freelance theatre director and teacher. Yet throughout the semester, I'd enjoyed more and more preparing my translations, puzzling through layers of indirect statement with my students, and discussing the life lessons Dido provides. What was it that drew me to Latin?

The answer came to me, unexpectedly, from one of the many people who tell us that Latin is a dead language. In my struggle to respond to this oft-uttered jibe, I realized that this is exactly what I love about my study of classics. I don't study Latin teleologically, for an end goal of fluent conversation with native speakers. Instead, I study it for the sake of the study. If I am never “fluent”, my time has not been wasted. If I must continue to look up the third principle part of parco, I no worse off. I study Latin for the joy and the challenge of it. And when I have completed the mental gymnastics necessary to piece together layers of indirect statements, my reward of a glimpse at some of the greatest works of literature in western history.

I realized that my study of classics has been something I have done for myself, not for a future career, responsibilities to others, or even fleeting entertainment. What I finally told my students was that while I hoped they pursued classics in college, the most important thing was for them to find something they were passionate about, outside of their career path. I want them to find a subject that challenges and stimulates them for the love of the study itself. No matter where my own path takes me, a line of dactylic hexameter will never lose its appeal.  

 

Lisa Dorn

MD / PhD CandidateMedical Scientist Training Program, The Ohio State University

Deciding to pursue a second major in Classics was the best decision I made at WashU. As a pre-med with a primary major in Biology, it was very important to me to broaden my interests beyond just the realm of science and medicine, and Classics was the natural choice. Not only did Classics allow me to balance my schedule between science, language, and ancient history, it also gave me a better appreciation for how modern languages, government, cultures, and even medicine evolved from the ancients. A double major (such as mine, in Biology and Classics) allows students to write interdisciplinary theses if they wish, which is exactly what I did: I wrote on Galen’s conception of the cardiovascular system, and was given such excellent support and feedback from my professors that the research and writing process was hardly as daunting as it originally seemed. Whereas other departments at WashU are comprised of 50 or more faculty and hundreds of students, the Classics department is small (yet caring) enough to allow students to get to know their teachers and their peers very well. I took four different classes with the same professor, and he made such an impression on me that I asked him to be my thesis advisor. WashU’s Classics department is dedicated to a personal touch, and I am fortunate to have chosen it as my (second) home during my undergraduate years.

 

John Moynihan, JD

Associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP; JD, University of Chicago Law School

Picking up where my high school courses left off, I studied both Latin and Greek at WashU. I read everything from Cicero to Juvenal and from Plato to Homer, which helped me develop a deep appreciation for skillful writing and good grammar. My courses in Classics prompted me to take a wide range of classes in other fields, including linguistics, philosophy, and astronomy.

My interest in Classical legal systems led me to write a thesis, with the heroic support and guidance of Dr. William Bubelis, on ancient Athenian court procedure. Unsurprisingly, I am pursuing in a career in the legal profession. I graduated from the University of Chicago Law School in 2015 and now practice law in Chicago. During law school, I developed an interest in the Stoics that continues to serve me well. I read and re-read Marcus Aurelius, and I recently started Seneca's letters to Lucilius.

 

Chase Sackett

Program Officer, Laura and John Arnold Foundation; JD, Yale Law School

In my career in public policy, I have found myself constantly using the skills I learned as a Classics student at WashU. I was so fortunate to have learned under supportive mentors like Professor Ryan Platte, my thesis advisor, how people interacted with social institutions throughout antiquity. I often find myself thinking back to how the Attic orators framed their legal arguments, or how ancient leaders like Kleisthenes transformed social structures and systems. My training at WashU helped me hone my reading comprehension and rhetoric, too. While the arguments I read aren't written in ancient Greek anymore, my classical education has proven critical to my personal and professional development. 

 

Catherine Karayan Wilbur, JD, LLM in Taxation

Associate at Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp LLP

I decided in 10th grade that I wanted to major in Classics and then go to Law School. I was drawn to Wash U's program at first because of the Ancient Studies major. I knew I loved Roman and Greek culture, history, art, oh really everything, but I wasn't so sure about the languages. I studied French and German in high school, so my schedule was full and I couldn't take Latin or Greek as well. Having an Ancient Studies option was the flexibility I needed when I began as Wash U. As it turns out, I fell in love with Greek and Latin and never looked back! The Classics Department was wonderful: challenging, intriguing, and brilliant. The professors wanted to get to know you; they actually mentored you. The classes were small and often involved lots of writing. Because of this, the Classics Department taught me to write very well, and I am eternally grateful for that! As a lawyer, you must write often and well. Indeed, as a law clerk, my job is to write and research all day. Heaven!

My classics major has helped my legal career in unexpected ways as well. I like tax law because it's like Ancient Greek. No, really -- hear me out. In tax law, you pour through these short, yet complex code sections, littered with defined terms and cross-referencing. They are daunting. The first thing I do is find the verb. Like Ancient Greek or Latin, it's often buried between a mess of clauses and parenthetical phrases. Then, I try to figure out what each word is doing in the sentence. In many cases, I also have to figure out what defined terms like "qualified personal residence" actually mean. My goal is to turn a tax code section into English. It's delightfully reminiscent of my Greek and Latin classes. The ability to carefully translate and analyze isn't limited to the tax code -- it's useful for any close reading -- but I can't help but notice that lawyers with classics degrees are often tax lawyers and they're often very good at what they do. 

Catherine's very classical home page.

 

James B. Rives, PhD

Kenan Eminent Professor, Dept. of Classics, U. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

I look back on the education I received in the Department of Classics at Washington University with much gratitude, because it formed the basis for my entire subsequent career. When I arrived in the fall semester of 1979, I had never studied any Latin, much less Greek, but had read enough in translation to be sure that I wanted to learn both languages. I stopped in at the Classics Department during the registration period, was warmly welcomed, and never looked back. During the next few years, thanks to the wonderful combination of very high standards and a very supportive environment, my language skills went from zero to pretty good, good enough for me to get into a top-rated graduate program. A lot has changed at WashU. in the nearly thirty years since I received my BA, but the excellence of the Classics Department is one of the things that has fortunately remained constant.

 

Grace Kroner, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow in Clinical Chemistry at the University of Utah/ARUP Laboratories; Ph.D. in Biological Chemistry, University of Michigan

When I started out at Wash U, I had no intention of majoring in Classics.  I thought I would just take a couple classes to allow a little more exploration of what I had enjoyed so much in high school.  Little did I know that I would find it becoming so much a part of my experience as an undergraduate.  That first day, coming from Writing 1 with mostly unimpressed, reluctantly-awake freshmen, and General Chemistry with the hundreds of eager students filling the auditorium and even resorting to sitting on the stairs, to arrive at Latin 318 was bliss.  It was a class of eight or so students, so it really provided the chance to engage in discussion and get to know my professor, Cathy Keane.  Even before the end of the semester, I was captivated and had happily turned in the major declaration paperwork to Cathy Marler.  I ended up taking Latin courses covering everything from Ovid, Juvenal and Apuleius to Seneca, Cicero and Pliny, in addition to a fantastic course on Greek and Roman music and just sneaking in the first half of Intensive Beginning Greek in the spring of my senior year.

 I also was a member in the Classics honor society, Eta Sigma Phi, and had great fun helping plan our new member initiations and other events with fellow students.  The group of students and faculty in the Classics department is unparalleled, I think, for their kindness, scholarship and general camaraderie.  I always looked forward to spending a couple hours in the undergrad study room- never knowing whom you might run into but knowing it would be fun- or attending the weekly Classics TV/movie watching.  Certainly the thing I definitely did not anticipate was deciding to write a Latin honors thesis, but when the time came around, registering for that seemed the obvious option.  Looking back, I realize that completing that thesis is easily the accomplishment of which I am most proud during my time at Wash U.  Even though none of this changed my plan to attend graduate school in biochemistry, the Classical aspect of my education was very influential.  It gave me a deep appreciation for logic and precise dissection as a method of study, which provides excellent training for a career in science, and a lasting interest in a wider variety of fields than would have been fostered had I studied just within Biology.  I still make sure to visit the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology here at Michigan when they have new exhibits, and even though most of my time now revolves around bacterial gene regulation, some Latin phrases still end up in lab notebook.