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  • Writer's pictureJoel Martinez

When The Lowest Tier Holds So Great A Brilliance

On Line 115 of Canto 30 in Dante's Divine Comedy we read:


And if the lowest tier alone can hold so great a brilliance,

then how vast the space of this Rose to its outer petals reach.


Here's another translation:


Imagine, when the least of all these grades, could gather to itself so great a light,

How great the wealth is at the rose's fringe.


Now check out this pic of our amazing group in Genova two weeks ago:




Each of these students has blown me away with their strength, intelligence, resilience and vulnerability. It makes me so happy about the next generation of people. That's just me being honest about my feelings. It is also why teaching at Lewis & Clark is so rewarding....ITS THE STUDENTS!!! They Rock!! My colleagues at LC will back me up on this, but it is good to remind ourselves of how lucky we are to teach these students.


It has taken me a while to post to this blog because so much has been happening. Here's the highlights:


A four day trip to Northern Italy: Genova and Turino. A long stretch of coursework and service activity....and we experienced a 4.0 earthquake followed by around 17 hours of aftershocks. There was no damage and everyone came together and is safe. We had lots of resources available and I was in close contact with the overseas office. That's quite a lot for 10 days or so.


The line above from Dante really captures my experience. Let me explain:


Consider the lines again:


And if the lowest tier alone can hold so great a brilliance,

then how vast the space of this Rose to its outer petals reach.


Now consider that these Lewis & Clark students are from all over the world. We are not simply a group of Americans. We are a group with a multiplicity of intersecting identities that transverses the globe. And the dialogue around our unique collection of identities informs so much of what we do.


Now think about how this group is studying the Art, Culture, Religion, Philosophy and Language that is so central to the construction of Western Culture. Here's an example. A photo from the Royal Palace in Turino, the former Capital of Italy.






And if the lowest tier alone can hold so great a brilliance,

then how vast the space of this Rose to its outer petals reach.



Who do you count as the lowest tier? The least well off? In North America? In Western Europe? In the Southern Hemisphere? Who is worthy of equal consideration? All humans? Non-Human Animals? Ecosystems and Nature?


The above questions are a small sampling of the kind of questions our classes at LC explore: in Sociology/Anthropology, Art History, Philosophy, English/Literature, Studio Art, International Affairs, Mathematics, Data Science (Yes, you heard me right: Math & Data Science raise these questions...I know b/c I'm part of it!).


What would it mean for the lowest tier to hold so great a brilliance?


Every day I am grateful to discuss our students' critical thoughts as they interact with an approach to education that is different from their own and as they develop their critical thoughts about Western Europe. None of these discussions are simple and none have easy answers. But, I wish you could hear how thoughtful and engaged the students are....


Imagine yourself engaged in that work.....Then...


A somewhat mild, but pretty scary, Earthquake hits!!!


And if the lowest tier alone can hold so great a brilliance,

then how vast the space of this Rose to its outer petals reach.


These lines and this trip took on a whole new meaning as we were all wondering if the foundations and infrastructure of our buildings held the brilliance we hoped they do.


And they did.


But more than that, we came together as a group and supported each other the next day as minor, but not fun, shockwaves rippled through our buildings for the whole next day. Schools and museums we closed for two days.


Many of us had post-earthquake comfort meals, we hugged each other, or just laughed.


This weekend there was a visit to local hot springs to relax. Here's the one I went to.





I will end with something funny, to me...that's how I cope. Its a TINY bit embarrassing, you'll see why.


On Wednesday night I was in my apartment on the Piazza del Campo around 9:45 pm. Here comes the embarrassing part...ready?


I was listening to Loverboy's Hit 1981 song "Working For The Weekend" (off the Album Get Lucky)...when THE EARTHQUAKE hit! I ran outside to the piazza b/c everyone was evacuating. I left the Loverboy album playing. I don't think anyone heard, but my window was open and as soon as I realized things were fine, I kept hearing Loverboy blare out of my apartment window.


Now, these crossed fingers take on a WHOLE NEW MEANING!


I miss everyone and I'm still the luckiest person in the world. No more Loverboy for me!


Love, Joel





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