Classics Feel Good Story of the Day

From the Gothamist:

Columbia University sign in subway station in NYC
Columbia University sign in subway station in NYC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An immigrant from the former Yugoslavia who has worked as a janitor for Columbia University for 20 years has finally earned his bachelor’s degree in classics, with honors. The Daily News reports that while you were concerned with catching up on Boardwalk Empire and content to remain in the same, midlevel job because “the economy just isn’t right yet,” Gac Filipaj toiled day and night, first taking classes to learn English then courses in the classics department at the Ivy League university. “Only half my dream come true,” Filipaj says, with an earnestness that kills a million photos of cats drawn in steamed milk. “Today, one ought to have a master’s or a Ph.D.”

Filipaj took advantage of Columbia’s tuition benefit for its employees and took classes in the morning then cleaned the school from 2:30 to 11 p.m., hitting the books right around when you usually finished your last jalepeno popper and drained a BL Lime at trivia night at some bar whose name you’ll forget in 8 months. “He just loves what he’s learning,” dean of students Phil Mendoza says.

“I think I’m going to stay at Columbia,” Filipaj says of his future. The janitor took two days vacation to celebrate his achievement, which is the same amount of time you took off to “recuperate” from your eight-day trip to Cabo. “If I can get a job better than cleaning, good. If not, there is nothing shameful about that work.”

As for whether his story is unique, Filipaj seems sheepish.“If my story and the fact at this age I am graduating helps people to think about getting an education, it’s for a good cause.”

In a followup article in the same paper (which also includes a video interview) Filipaj notes:

Asked what the most difficult part of his academic and professional journey has been, Filipaj declines to mention the pressure of financially supporting his family back home while he betters himself with highly refined, esoteric knowledge, or the bizarre duality of cleaning bathrooms and studying while his classmates were playing Halo and overdrafting into their parents’ checking accounts. “The most difficult thing is ancient Greek—it’s just a killer! Latin is a little bit easier, at least for me.

… I can sympathize with a lot of that …

Another Classicist Author

It’s interesting how many authors of juvenile fiction (it seems) have a Classics background … here’s the latest one to keep an eye on, from the Daily Record:

MEET writer Daniela Sacerdoti – who has swapped Italy for Scotland to keep our teenagers up all night.

The mum-of-two’s new novel – Dreams, a demonic, paranormal thriller – is being tipped as the next teenage blockbuster after the Twilight trilogy.

Some young reviewers are even claiming it is better than Stephenie Meyer’s acclaimed vampire saga as the expectation around its release reaches fever pitch.

The book, the first of a trilogy about demon-hunting schoolgirl Sarah Midnight, is also attracting interest from around the world.

The former primary school teacher yesterday told how she based her bewitching main character on an anonymous schoolgirl standing at a bus stop near her home in Barrhead, Renfrewshire.

Daniela, 38, admits she is dumbstruck about the hype building around the novel. She said: “The book is not out yet but I’ve already had lots of positive feedback from young people reviewing it.

“I’m blown away by the response to the novel in Britain and around the world. It’s an exciting time.

“Paranormal thrillers have become very popular in the last few years, thanks to the Twilight books and movies.

“I came up with the idea for Sarah Midnight long before the trend for the genre began. After seeing the reaction Stephenie Meyer’s novels got, I thought it was time to put pen to paper and bring my character to life.”

Daniela, who was born in the village of Caravino, near Naples, added: “Sarah Midnight is based on a schoolgirl I spotted at a bus stop in Barrhead seven years ago.

“She was around 15 and had gorgeous, long, black hair and a charismatic expression. She had a face that told a story and I decided it was up to me to tell that tale. Sarah was born.

“A few years later I went to visit a friend in Glasgow who lives in an old Victorian villa. Her house became the Midnights’ home.” The book is set in Edinburgh and follows Sarah’s battle to survive in a world of demons after her parents are mysteriously killed.

Although her world is shattered, the 17-year-old has no choice but to embrace her role as a demon hunter. Her nightmares come true and she has to learn fast that death waits for no one.

Daniela, whose great-uncle was renowned Italian writer Carlo Levi, would love her trilogy to be made into movies or TV dramas.

The Twilight Saga movies, starring Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart, smashed box office records all over the world.

The Dreams author said: “I would love Sarah Midnight to make it on to TV or the big screen. I think the trilogy would make a brilliant BBC drama.

“If it ever got made into a movie, I would love Jennifer Lawrence from The Hunger Games to play Sarah.”

Daniela, who used to teach at Annette Street Primary in Govanhill, Glasgow, gave up teaching to raise her sons Sorley, seven and Luca, four – and concentrate on writing.

Her debut book Watch Over Me, an adult novel about love and loss, was an instant hit and her second, a children’s book called The Really Weird Removal Company, was shortlisted for the 2011 Kelpie Prize.

Daniela, who is married to mental health worker Ross Walker, 40, said: “I always have a couple of books on the go and another two or three in my head.

“The first draft of the second Sarah Midnight novel is finished and hopefully will be published in January.

“I’m also working on a sequel to my kids’ book and a paranormal thriller for adults.

Daniela, who studied Classics at Turin University and Irish medieval history at University College Dublin, says she finds it easier to write in English than her native Italian.

She said: “English is my second language but it’s the language I always choose to write in.

“As a child I would always write my diary in English so no one else could read them.

“I remember my English teacher getting us to write about what we wanted to be when we grew up. I put ‘righter’, which makes me laugh, when I think back on it.

“All my books are set in Scotland because I am in love with this country I now call home and feel it is the perfect setting for all types of stories, especially thrillers.”

Daniela has inherited her parents’ love of books and their thirst for knowledge and self-improvement.

She said: “My family have always loved the arts and sciences. My dad studied physics at university and became a brilliant businessman.

“Sadly, he died three years before my first book came out. I know he would have been very proud of me.

“My mum still lives in Italy but comes to Scotland once a year for a visit. She doesn’t speak English and can’t wait for me to translate Sarah Midnight into Italian – she is also a lover of literature.”

Daniela admits she sees a bit of herself in the character of Sarah Midnight.

She said: “Every teenager goes through emotional turmoil and that is what I wanted to capture in
the character.

“The demons in the book are both physical and metaphorical as we all have demons to fight in our lives. We all want to be empowered and we all have to battle to know who to trust.”

via: Scots author ‘blown away’ by response to book tipped to be the new Twilight (Daily Record)

More Classical NFL ~ Jonathan Martin

Looks like another Classicist got drafted last weekend … an excerpt from the Boston Herald:

[…] The Dolphins need to do a better job keeping their quarterbacks up, so

Miami Dolphins logo
Miami Dolphins logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

they took Stanford offensive tackle Jonathan Martin in the second round. They’ll need to coach up University of Miami defensive end Olivier Vernon, whose college production doesn’t exactly match his third-round selection. They took tight end Michael Egnew, a 6-5 former high jumper and basketball player, in search of another player who can go up over defenders.

The Dolphins picked up an extra draft pick when they traded out of the No. 73 spot back to the No. 78 spot held by San Diego and picked up a sixth-round pick from the Chargers in the process. Though Martin couldn’t say what career he would be headed for if not for football — “I haven’t really thought about that. My goal all along has been to get to the NFL.” — he doesn’t break the Stanford mold of actual student-athletes. Martin majored in “Classics,” as in ancient Greek and Roman history. Martin’s maternal great-grandfather graduated from Harvard in 1924.

Both of Martin’s parents, Gus Martin and Jane Howard-Martin, graduated from Harvard. […]

Love the quotation marks around “Classics”, as if that were a subject they ‘made up’ …

Some previous related coverage:

John Allemang’s Career Path

The incipit of a feature in Trinity College Magazine … always fun to read about a Canadian who studied Classics and had subsequent success (he currently is with the Globe and Mail, I believe):

John Allemang ’74 is a journalist, rather than someone for whom journalism is a job. His newsroom experiences date back to the days of newsmen smoking at their desks, filing stories by phone and couriering a cockroach from bureau to bureau in a cassette-tape case on a “Tour of the Bureaus,” making light of the travels of a managing editor.

Allemang is not the guy who produces follow-the-formula stories; he listens to his editors and works with them, but he lets his stories speak for themselves, rather than allowing editorial edict to dictate. Like so many writerly quirks, his intuitive independence likely stems from his upbringing. The eldest of four, he was often left to his own devices, enjoying a childhood spent exploring local drainage ditches, breaking bones and, according to one oft-quoted report card, doing his classmates’ work for them.

He attended University of Toronto Schools – where he excelled and flailed academically, dominated at sports from hockey to gymnastics, took dubious hitchhiking trips across North America in the summers, and cut class to go look at art and hear poetry.

He went on to Trinity, completing a specialty degree in Classics. He was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship (much to his surprise) and left for Oxford, where he studied Classics at Wadham College. While there, he sated a hunger for gastronomic knowledge.

“I spent a lot of free time in Soho studying the markets, stores, bakeries, dim sum restaurants, cafés,” he recalls. He would buy ingredients, like a pig’s head, and figure out what to do with them, turning his flat into a makeshift rendering plant.

And in those batches of DIY head cheese lie journalistic origins: Allemang began filing reports to The Good Food Guide, a British publication he describes as “a more literate pre-Zagat amalgam of people’s real dining experiences channelled through an intellectually sophisticated, allusive editorial sensibility.”

Following Oxford, he applied to the Canadian diplomatic services but was notified of a hiring freeze. He briefly considered a career as a hockey player in rural France, but chose to enter U of T’s law school instead, which he soon decided wasn’t for him. Eventually, he came back to writing. He contacted two publications, hoping they would hire him to write about food. […]

What to Do With a Classics Degree: Madeline Miller’s Career Path

From a brief item in Boston Globe Magazine:

My mom used to read the Greek myths, particularly The Iliad, to me when I was a little girl, and I absolutely loved them. AT BROWN, I MAJORED IN LATIN and Greek, and then I stayed and got my master’s, also in the classics. I had always loved writing, modern stories mostly, but I never thought about connecting my writing with the classics.

Then, in my senior year, I directed a production of Troilus and Cressida, Shakespeare’s version of the Trojan War. That experience, directing Achilles how to stand and telling Agamemnon what his costume should be, made me realize I could tell these stories myself. I ESPECIALLY LOVED ACHILLES and Patroclus and was moved at Achilles’ grief over losing Patroclus. After the play ended, I sat down at the computer and started writing. Working on the novel on the side was like MY DIRTY SECRET. I went to graduate school and then got a job teaching, and the book was the thing I did on weekends and summer vacations.

I ended up writing an entire first draft by about year five. I thought maybe this is ready for publication, but it really wasn’t. I ended up completely REWRITING THE NOVEL FROM SCRATCH. By the time year 10 came around, I had a finished manuscript I felt good about. Within two weeks after my agent submitted the novel to publishers, multiple editors were interested, which just blew me over.

The book came out March 6, and the most exciting thing is seeing the story reach other people. Doing events initially made me a little nervous, but I’m grateful for my classroom experience. If I can face teenagers who maybe don’t want to learn what I’m teaching them, I can do anything.