A View from Kirkland Hall
This issue of Arts and Science offers a worldview of the Vanderbilt College of Arts and Science: demonstrating the impact of our school in the world at large, and the impact of the world at large on our school. From my vantage point in Kirkland Hall, Arts and Science seems at once vast and localized. Approximately 4 percent of our undergraduates and 23 percent of our graduate students hail from countries other than the U.S., yet they are all at home here on this beautiful residential campus where their courses, research and service activities are emphatically global in emphasis and effects. The work of our faculty touches every continent on this planet. And our community as a whole has dedicated itself to a yearlong emphasis on sustainability and the environment that addresses the future of the planet itself.
My own travels on behalf of Arts and Science in the past year have extended from Melbourne, Australia, to Aix-en-Provence, France, to Belfast, Northern Ireland, and throughout North America. Yet wherever I travel on behalf of Arts and Science, I feel entirely at home. Meeting far-flung friends who love this place as I do, and advocating for Arts and Science within new environments, partnerships and possibilities—these are privileges unique to my job. Invariably I return to campus inspired by our current work and our future potential, rededicated to our mission of excellence in research, teaching and service, wherever that takes us.
Sometimes the most profound lessons take place fairly close to home.
On a crisp, clear day in the fall, I took a road trip with three good friends: Mona Frederick, executive director of the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities, and Arts and Science alumni Will (BA’66, JD’69) and Lillias Johnston (BA’67). We drove the 50 miles or so up to the Tennessee–Kentucky state line to the small town of Guthrie, Ky., where we had the warmest of welcomes from Jeane Moore and Melba Smith, two of the founders of the Robert Penn Warren Birthplace House Museum. As you will read in “Birthplace of Greatness,” Jeane, Melba and a small team of friends have dedicated years of their lives to the establishment and maintenance of a beautiful museum in the birthplace of Robert Penn Warren, poet laureate, three-time Pulitzer Prize winner and Vanderbilt alumnus and professor.
In that house, among fascinating exhibits and memorabilia, hangs a simple ring with the keys from Warren’s room from his days as an Arts and Science undergraduate.
From his home in Guthrie to his home on campus to his home in the pantheon of U.S. letters, Robert Penn Warren was a poet, a novelist and a journalist. Warren was a master at connecting the local and the global, the quotidian concerns of small-town life with the global questions of his day. Realizing this profound insight was made possible only by the efforts of Jeane, Melba and the citizens of Guthrie, who have dedicated themselves to preserving Warren’s legacy within their community on behalf of the world at large. They invited us in and welcomed us to new insights about Warren as a person, a poet, a local boy, a great man, a son, a father, a friend.
No matter where we go in life, we all start somewhere. I will never forget the sight of those room keys hanging on a hook on a wall in a house in Guthrie, Ky. What doors they opened in the life that ensued.
photo credit: Daniel Dubois