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Introduction of the Convocation Speaker

By Timothy Kaufman-Osborn, provost and dean of the faculty

In my capacity as provost and dean of the faculty at Whitman College, it is my pleasure as my privilege to introduce Professor Elizabeth Vandiver, who will deliver this year’s convocation address. My primary purpose today is to tell you a bit about our speaker. In doing so, however, I want to make it clear that the intellectual virtues of Professor Vandiver are emblematic of the intellectual virtues of the Whitman faculty as a whole. This year represents my twenty-eighth year at Whitman; and today I remain as convinced as I was in 1982 that the faculty of this College is one of the most talented and dedicated in the nation. If I had remembered to wear my cap to the podium, I would now tip it to my colleagues; and if you were wearing caps, I would ask you to do the same.

Elizabeth Vandiver is the Clement Biddle Penrose Associate Professor of Latin and Classics at Whitman College. At Whitman, we pride ourselves on the model of the teacher-scholar, one who is a master instructor as well as an engaged scholar, one who brings the virtues of each to the practice of the other, whether that be in the classroom or the published word. Few better exemplify that ideal than does Professor Vandiver.

Professor Vandiver received her Masters degree as well as her doctorate in Classics in 1990 from the University of Texas at Austin, and it has been our good fortune to count her among our number since 2004. At Whitman, among others, Professor Vandiver has taught intermediate and advanced Greek as well as Latin; courses on women in antiquity as well as Greek and Roman Art; and the wonderfully titled course, “Achilles in the Trenches: The Classical Tradition and the First World War.” Given her commitment to blending the arts of teaching and scholarship, it is perhaps no surprise that her book, titled Stand in the Trench, Achilles: Classical Receptions in British Poetry of the Great War, will be published by the very prestigious Oxford University Press early next year. In all of her work, suggests one of her colleagues, “Professor Vandiver presents complex material with utter clarity, neither dumbing down the material nor making it inaccessible.  She draws her students toward understandings which they might not otherwise be able to reach.  In her scholarship she similarly marries academic precision and rigor to a jargon-free style of writing which gives all readers access to her rich analyses of complex and nuanced questions.”

Anyone who seeks confirmation of Professor Vandiver’s forte as a superb instructor and scholar should visit the website for The Teaching Company. There, in the aptly-named “Superstar Teachers Series,” you will find her on-line courses on various topics, including, to mention just a few, Classical Mythology, Greek Tragedy, and Great Authors of the Western Literary Tradition. Given her selection to participate in this series, it should come as no surprise to learn that in 1998, The American Philological Association recognized Professor Vandiver’s achievements with its Excellence in Teaching Award, the most prestigious teaching prize given to American classicists.

The title of the 2009 Whitman College convocation address is titled “Transforming Traditions,” and I would ask you to join me in offering a generous and gracious welcome to one of Whitman College’s finest, Professor Elizabeth Vandiver.

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