Last week’s St. Olaf student government elections ignited aspiring politicians across campus. Because of St. Olaf’s small size, although numerous votes hinge on important campus issues, many votes depend on how well the candidate has reached out to the St. Olaf community. More often than not, students vote for the candidates they know. Many candidates secured votes from their friends via Facebook events and pages, but the tricky part is recruiting students in different years or friend groups. In an effort to increase votes, candidates met with Oles of all years to hear the issues they find important. Whether knocking on doors in first-year residence halls or tabling outside Stav Hall during dinner, candidates strove to connect with as many students as possible. By directly speaking with students, candidates are better able to improve the school and foster a sense of community. This year’s election’s emphasis on relationships between the candidates and students highlights the close-knit environment at St. Olaf.
Students ran for positions varying from the Student Body President and Vice-President to the Director of the Pause, the student-run lounge and restaurant. Each student government position allows students more opportunities to connect with their peers and gain leadership experience though campus committees.
Friday night Ole relived their childhoods by singing along to pop favorites at 90′s Karaoke night. The free event was put on by student coordinators in the After Dark Committee–a student government branch completely devoted to planning fun weekend events. Along with the karaoke, they had classic snacks like Warheads and Koolaid jammers and had a raffle to win a Furby and a Chia pet. I’ll admit that I went up on stage a few times to sing Will Smith’s “Fresh Prince of Bel Air Theme Song” and Destiny’s Child’s “Say my Name.” All the public humiliation paid off in the end–I won the Furby raffle! Even if it is a little silly, the event was a huge success because in the midst of a college campus that focuses on preparing us for the future, sometimes its great to remember the games and songs we loved as kids.
Look forward to more coverage of fun student events as second semester gets underway!
Combining short dramatic scenes, haunting musical pieces, and darkly comic puppetry, Poe Pieces, which ran February 8th-16th, formed a theatrical anthology of Edgar Allen Poe’s work that provided audience members a look into Poe’s often disturbing creativity. Interpretations of Poe’s various literary works including “Mask of the Red Death,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” and “The Raven” came to life on stage as actors, student musicians, and theater technicians presented their work after an interim course focused on the performance’s production.
Poe Pieces was a devised play, which means that unlike with a traditional play, actors did not start with a script on which to base their performance. Instead, they spent the weeks of January’s interim in a theater course where they assembled the performance from the ground up. This type of “workshopped show” allows actors to become more involved with the piece because they have a hand in its creation. Jeanne Willcoxon, the professor leading the project, had worked on a devised theater production in the past and values the unique connection actors have with a piece when they devise the script.
Various elements of Poe’s life came together during the show’s creation, providing audience members a multifaceted look at the author’s work. Actors and other students working with the performance began their work by reading several of Edgar Allen Poe’s poems, short stories, letters and biographies. Along with Poe’s work, students studied Sigmund Freud’s essay on “the uncanny.” The essay defines the uncanny as something familiar yet somehow strange, an experience that produces an eerie feeling of uneasiness. Holding this essay in the background while assembling the different elements of the performance lent the play a dark, off-putting mood that fit Poe’s melancholic style.
After reading through Poe’s short stories, poems and letters, students began interpreting the pieces for theater. The students formed small groups and were each assigned the same piece of Poe’s literature. Despite having the same literary work, each group focused on a different element of theatrical production with their group. For example, when the students worked with the poem “To My Mother,” one group concentrated on text, another on movement, and another on sound. Dividing the students into different theatrical elements encouraged students to completely dissect each piece and understand how to effectively communicate Poe’s emotion through the entire scene. After working within the groups, the students came together and discussed each element. Willcoxon reminded the students that each theatrical performance has a variety of elements, and she prompted the students to layer the different elements. Because the groups worked separately from each other, occasionally their interpretations conflicted. After working in this manner for a few days, students strove to understand Poe’s purpose in each story and asked themselves what they wanted to convey to the audience. This intense focus on each piece eventually allowed students to successfully layer the different elements into a cohesive production.
Isaac Rysdahl, a student actor in Poe Pieces, appreciated the opportunity to devise a play because it allowed him to connect to the work in ways that other performances had not. Rysdahl said, “It was a great experience for the actors to be involved with the creative process. There is a certain sense of vulnerability that is necessary when trying to create a piece because you have to be willing to try things and know they’re going to fail. We failed many times during the creative process, but I think we succeeded in coming up with a great cohesive piece.” According to Rysdahl, the creation of Poe Pieces was a wholly collaborative effort. Although the end goal was ultimately to create a single theatrical performance, the unique creative process that formed Poe Pieces provided a valuable experience for every student involved.
Last Wednesday St. Olaf choir returned from their West Coast tour, and tonight they performed their last concert of the Winter Tour in Boe Chapel on campus. St. Olaf choir is internationally recognized for their music. The choir itself is made up of 75 students with a variety of majors and interests. The West Coast tour took the choir through Oregon, down California, and eventually stopped in Arizona before they headed back to the snowy upper-Midwest.
While St. Olaf choir–Ole choir to most students–is musically impressive and critically acclaimed, I attended tonight’s concert to support my friends! As a student, I’ve noticed that the choir concerts can be just as packed as the basketball or football games, and I attend as many events as I can to cheer everyone on. St. Olaf’s close community is arguably most visible at events like these where Oles come together in support.
If you’re interested in watching a stream of tonight’s concert, click here (I would highly recommend it–these Oles are extremely talented!)
For his last Interim as an Ole, Patrick Faunillan ’13, a Nursing major from Shakopee, MN, traveled to San Salvador Island in the Bahamas with Art 106: Drawing from Nature in the Bahamas. The program was led by John Saurer, Associate Professor of Art, offered in conjunction with Island Biology in the Bahamas (Biology 287) led by Professor of Biology Jean Porterfield. Patrick shared with us his favorite photos and a few highlights from his time there.
As Oles begin to return to campus for the second semester, they excitedly share photos and stories of their time off-campus and abroad. One such student is Krista Swedenburg ’14, who traveled to Tanzania with the program “Hemingway in East Africa” and shared with me her favorite photos and captions.
Welcome back, Oles! Check back for more photos from our returning students.
Vice President for Enrollment and College Relations Michael Kyle ’85 reflects on this week’s loss of a St. Olaf legend, Tom Porter ’51.
I’m guessing most admissions blogs don’t start with a story about a funeral. This one does.
I just experienced one of the best funerals I have attended in some time. Seriously. And by “best” I don’t mean “fun” or “uplifting.” It was that rare mix of memory, emotion, aspiration, community and empathy that is missing at many places, perhaps many colleges, and certainly in many communities.
Tom Porter was a football coach. He was a St. Olaf grad. He was married to a St. Olaf grad and a number of their children and grandchildren went to St. Olaf. He lived in Northfield. He shopped in Northfield. He went to the home football games long after he retired. I hope every new coach at St. Olaf called on him as they began their tenure with St. Olaf athletics. Tom Porter was someone who always called me by my first name, and I always called him coach. He professed to not understand college admissions, and I often responded to the greeting that I didn’t really understand football. I had friends who played football, both in high school and college. But I never understood football. My mistake was thinking that all Tom Porter was about was football. I gave up on that assumption years ago. He told stories. He cared about the college, its past and its present. And he cared about its future. He really deplored the unfortunate stereotype of the college athlete, so you can imagine how he felt about the stereotype of a college football player. He liked to win, but he cared much more about teaching young men how to be well-prepared for big games, and therefore, for life. If that resulted in a win, terrific. That was just an added benefit.
Tom’s funeral this week was a send off. St. Olaf hosted the visitation on campus. A room was filled with flowers, pictures and memorabilia. And people. People who loved Tom Porter. Family. Friends. Faculty colleagues. Staff colleagues. Former players. Current players. The current St. Olaf men’s basketball, hockey and football teams all appeared, en masse, to pay tribute. These current student athletes have grandparents YOUNGER than Tom Porter. But they were there. Paying tribute to someone who stood for something in an era before the internet, who exemplified values that continue to be sustained at St. Olaf today. They knew he stood for them and their futures, and that is why they came.
And the funeral was at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Northfield. My wife and I have memories there. We were members of the congregation when we lived in Northfield and our youngest daughter was baptized there. The church was packed. Former players, including Bob Matson, the father of Assistant Dean of Admissions Maggie Matson, and current players. Coaches who never coached alongside Tom Porter and faculty who taught in subject areas as far from Tom Porter’s background as you could imagine. But everyone, everyone, was there to honor a member of our community and to, perhaps, through him, honor that community itself.
Community can’t really be forced on anyone. It’s a gift. And when you accept the privilege of people and community, you are blessed. I was blessed to know, watch, admire and respect Tom Porter. He wanted the best for St. Olaf students. And he expected the best from them, too.
“St. Olaf College” and “Community” are inseparable. It’s why I went to St. Olaf. It’s why I work there.
- Michael Kyle ’85