Language LeadersGAMBIER, Ohio (July 1, 2008) A Kenyon student earned top honors for the second year in a national Russian essay contest.
Jason Cieply '08 of Pickerington, Ohio, was among four first-place winners at level three in the Ninth Annual Post-Secondary Russian Essay Contest that attracted 723 essays from fifty colleges and universities in the United States. Cieply was also a top scorer at his level in 2007.
Cieply's success in the Russian contest was matched by three students who finished tied for the top national score in the initial Collegiate Greek Examination, taken by seventy-nine elementary ancient Greek students at ten colleges and universities.
Leo Tolstoy's classic opening to the novel "Anna Karenina" ("All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.") was the topic for the Russian essay, completed by Cieply in one fifty-minute class period this year. Russian novelists of the 19 century tended to "dwell on misery and social problems," Cieply said, and he put a creative spin on the essay through a comparison with modern writers.
Cieply, who spent seven weeks in St. Petersburg, Russia, last summer is preparing for a stint in Tomsk , Russia, this year as a J. William Fulbright Teaching Fellow. "I managed to learn a lot here," Cieply said. "It's a small department, but you really do get a lot of attention.
"The language is beautiful," Cieply said. "Stick to it. Get to the point where you can read it and then read as much as you can. And spend time there."
The contest is sponsored by the American Council of Teachers of Russian and was judged in Russia. Stephanie Norton '10 of Cullowhee, North Carolina, was among four level-two students in second place and Kendall Krawchuk '10 of Peninsula, Ohio, joined six level-two students in third place.
Susmita Sundaram, visiting professor of Russian, said the essays are judged on the complexity of the content, grammar, structure, and word choice. "What the students seem to be telling us is that the teachers are really involved," she said. "We invest in the program. These kids end up winning Fulbrights." The language, she said, is vital when doing business in Russia.
The Collegiate Greek Examination had forty multiple-choice questions, and these Kenyon students captured all three silver medals, tied for the top score of thirty-six: Joshua Gross '11 of Storrs, Connecticut; Glenn Palaia '10 of Yardley, Pennsylvania; and Jessica Wise '09 of Metairie, Louisiana. Jamie Fishman '10 of Cincinnati, Ohio, and Megan Wilhem '10 of Alliance, Ohio, were two of six students who won bronze medals. Anna Kephart '10 of Bethesda, Maryland, earned one of eleven certificates of commendation. The exam was sponsored by the American Classical League and Eta Sigma Phi, the national classics honor society.
The success of Kenyon students on the exam can be attributed to intensive instruction with daily class meetings during the week and "some very gifted students who are willing to work hard," said Carolin Hahnemann, associate professor of classics. "Students are ready to translate … important pieces of literature after a mere twenty-one weeks of toil," she said. "And what a literature it is. I know of no other culture that was as able to look without blinking at that beautiful and brutal mess we call a human being and then capture its reflection in words."
Gross appreciates his teachers and the small classes in which they work. "The classics are very important for understanding modern literature and modern culture," he said.