By Mary Jantsch
Class of 2013
Her long silver hair rested behind the right side of her face, restrained by a rhinestone pin. Her red-framed glasses, contrasting a pink cardigan, intermittently revealed the poet’s eyes. Sharon Olds was exactly what I expected a New York University professor and renowned poet to look like, but her words belied any stereotype. “Douche-bag Ode” and “Ode to the Hymen” are not words one imagines from a 67-year-old woman with two strands of shiny pearls sparkling on her neck.
I think that was precisely the point.
Between readings of her poems, Olds offered this advice for aspiring writers: “We can think we’re doing the wrong thing, writing the wrong thing, we’re not sure but we don’t think we’re supposed to – you will be glad you did.”
This made me think not just of writers but of speakers, of everyone. Why hold back?
Of course there are the little things like: ‘Hey Kevin, you have something green on your front left tooth,’ or ‘Anna your skirt is tucked into your underwear.’ But when it really matters, do you ignore the creeping thoughts of insecurity and speak up anyway?
No Gonzaga student can turn their tassel without a speech class; you learn haptics, nonverbal communication and the art of captivation here. We also become master philosophers, the sons and daughters of Socrates. Where though, do we learn to speak our mind? If not in the classroom then through other, amazing opportunities that Gonzaga provides – through speakers like Sharon Olds.
Looking behind me to the back of Cataldo Hall on the evening the great poet read, I saw a wall lined with students, standing-room only. Hearing the award-winning poet share her thoughts so candidly and so freely made me think. I realized it’s too bad this kind of experience is often limited to college.
I learned that many of the speakers Gonzaga brings to us, the Sharon Olds of the world, are worth hearing, even if it means taping the season-opening episode of “Lost.” Missing “Lost,” I found something much better. And I learned, if nothing else, to always say ‘yes’ to something free.