This year, the Odyssey Project graduated 72 students across its five sites and from its newly piloted high school program, Sojourner Scholars.
This year’s commencement speaker was Alexai Galaviz-Budziszewski, educator and author of Painted Cities (2014), which is a short story collection about growing up and community life in Pilsen. He delivered an address that spoke of the power of representation in literature and how finding copies of Painted Cities in Chicago Public Libraries has been one his greatest achievements. Galaviz-Budziszewski commended the graduates and expressed his admiration for their dedication to prioritizing their own educational pursuits amidst so many competing demands on their time and energies.
We are so very proud of each of our students’ many accomplishments and I know I speak on behalf of the coordinators and faculty when I say that we all consider ourselves very lucky to work with such phenomenally motivated individuals whose passion for learning is unrivaled. I am equally proud of the sense of community and camaraderie that clearly exists among the students and among students and faculty. In the Odyssey Project, there is a recognition that collectively we have embarked on a different way to imagine higher education in the humanities. Together we acknowledge that some of the most profound learning happens in and within communities and the community we have built within the Odyssey Project is made possible because of our shared commitment to and passion for learning.
Each year a student is selected by their classmates to represent their site at graduation. Below are excerpts from the students representing the Second Year Program and the North Side Site.
Here are excerpts from the students who spoke at graduation:
Representing Odyssey Project’s Second Year Course – student graduation speaker LaToya Robinson:
“On behalf of the 2017 Second year class, I am greatly honored to stand before you here today.
It feels like an eternity since I’ve seen my classmates. I don’t know about them, but I have a really big problem now. Every time I read an interesting article or book, I want to discuss it. Its one thing to read and understand something for yourself, but there is nothing like learning with others. We are limited on our own. We need the perspective of other people to truly understand it, and ourselves.
It has been a privilege and honor to be part of a learning community with you. I want to take this time to celebrate the men and women who were in my class, because being an adult learner is very different. There are responsibilities and obligations that come before the luxury of going to class. Adult learners must squeeze even more time out of a busy schedule. So, thank you for showing up. Because you showed up to class, I was able to see people from all backgrounds, spanning a large age range, come out to learn. Thank you for being honest and for opening the treasures of your heart and mind with me. I am forever grateful that you trusted me with your experiences, the good and bad. Thank you for being yourself.
Today, we celebrate completion. Completion has two meanings. The first, means the action or process of finishing something. The second, is a football term that means a successful forward pass. I am choosing the latter definition, a successful forward pass, for we are not finished. We are lifelong learners. We have been entrusted with knowledge. Our teacher-guides have successfully paseed knowledge onto us and we must now use that knowledge as a lamp to guide others and successfully pass it along. The more we pick up, the more we are to pass it along. We must not stop now. We must continue to read, ponder and discuss. It is our responsibility to keep the conversation going. Our instructors have shown us, that to be a good teacher begins with being a good listener, so let us all stay open for the knowledge and wisdom of others.
I believe words are powerful. They can encourage and build or they can tear down and destroy. I would like to leave you with words that bless. May you always have access to knowledge. May you never tire of learning and teaching. May you always have a hunger to read and discuss. May you always find the energy to keep going.”
The student graduation speaker for the North Side Course, Rochelle Gregory:
“I could tell a story about how I got here and how The Odyssey Project found someone that was broken and helped mend her back together with each class. But I don’t need to share that story for the very reason I stand before you. The story I will share with you is how The Odyssey Project changed this aspiring writer’s idea about education. With each class a new chapter of my life was enriched with knowledge, confidence and surprisingly self-realization. My mind took journeys and reached destinations it never conquered before …
Engaging with my fellow interlocutors (a word I learned in Philosophy class) about subjects that may usually be discussed on an Ivy League campus felt as though we were treasure hunters in a foreign land on the search of a mysterious hidden gem. Very much like in Plato’s “Allegory of the cave” a parable about the effect of education and the lack of it in our society; this journey has been painful in some ways but worth the knowledge gained. I say painful not only because of the papers that we had to write and the fact that we still came to class through the cold, rain and snow but painful because when a person becomes educated and still tries to function in their normal life, it can be difficult and you can feel like an outcast. Those things that you once believed, you now question, those friends you once had great talks with you now find mundane and draining. It’s hard to be in this world feeling as though no one understands you. But on Tuesdays and Thursdays on the 3rd floor in a non distinctive office building a group of like minded individuals came together under the agreement that we’d rather be Enlightened than Unenlightened. I started off by telling you how The Odyssey Project found me while I was broken but chose not to share my story since I’m no longer that person. What I want you to do is imagine being emotionally drained by a society that you see everyday on the News and in person, riddled with violence, injustice, anguish and, one would assume, basically hopelessness; but then you come to U.S History Class and you are no longer an individual but a community filled with hope for the future. While discussing the struggle for freedom and equality in the 1800’s, you get inspired. While reading how the union workers banded together to fight for fair labor laws, you get the gumption to protest against the injustices you face on your job as well as in your church. You no longer sit back and hope someone would save you; you now live by the motto, SOS (saving our selves). We are our future, learning from our past and living in our present for a day of True Liberty. We will feel the ups and downs throughout this journey, it will be rocky but we hang on until we have finished.”