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Even before coming to campus, Lafayette's newest students began their collegiate experience with a summer adventure.

An intellectual adventure, that is. The common summer reading assignment for the 583 members of the Class of 2003 was one of the world's most esteemed adventure stories, the Odyssey.

Homer's epic is ancient, some 2,700 years old, but the translation is new – it's Robert Fagles' heralded 1996 translation of the magnificent poem – and so is the technology that helped the students get the most out of it. They took advantage of a special Lafayette Web site featuring a study guide to the Odyssey, a discussion board, and links to other helpful Internet sites, including Tufts University's dynamic Perseus Project.

“Think of the Odyssey as one of the world's oldest and best action adventure stories,'' said Dean of Studies Christopher W. Gray. “The Odyssey has been read continually for almost 3,000 years because it touches on just about every aspect of human life, the kinds of problems we are all confronted with throughout our lives.”

In addition to explaining why the Odyssey is great for a pre-freshman to experience before entering college, the study guide provided advice and discussion questions to focus the students' reading. Through the discussion board, the students shared questions and comments about the Odyssey with each other in a virtual classroom made up of the entire class. The moderator, Howard J. Marblestone, Lafayette associate professor of foreign languages and literatures, provided answers and insights for the students' edification.

On the Website, Marblestone said, “We urge you to use the discussion board to ask questions and to make comments and observations. Lafayette is a community of learners and we invite you to join the community of readers now. You do not have to wait until classes begin at the end of August to be a part of the intellectual enterprise that is at the center of the Lafayette Experience.”

Few members of the new class journeyed as far as Shirley Satuh to join the Lafayette family. Her home is in Navrongo, Ghana, about 5,000 miles from College Hill. But Satuh bridged the distance between the southern coast of West Africa and the forks of the Delaware during the summer, using the Website to participate with her classmates in a discussion of the Odyssey.

“I discuss the Odyssey with my family often, but it is even more rewarding to discuss it with people with different perspectives, as is done on the Website,” Satuh said. “I have found it extremely helpful indeed. I was always a biology-chemistry-maths-and-physics person, and my knowledge of the classical myths and the ancient Greeks went no further than Saturday morning cartoons. But after reading the Odyssey, I have read many other books on ancient civilizations and found immense pleasure in the amassing of knowledge for its own sake.”

“I think the Odyssey is an excellent reading experience as I prepare for college,” Satuh said. “I have, after reading it, asked myself, ‘What is most important to me, and how much am I prepared to sacrifice for it?' Odysseus longed for home and for the warmth of family. For these he gave up a chance to become immortal and live forever in bliss with Calypso. I wonder if I would pass on immortality or something as magnificent if it meant losing what I longed for? The Odyssey, to me, is a testament to and a reminder of loyalty to one's purpose in life.”

“Having a summer reading gives the incoming students some intellectual momentum,” said Daniel Swarr '03 of Clifton Park, N.Y. “The Odyssey is loaded with references that I am sure will appear over and over in other literature that my class is bound to read in the future. The story is a classic and its myths are part of our culture. Finally, the poem is just an excellent adventure story that reads very fast—I was surprised at how far from dry the Odyssey is.”

June Schlueter, Lafayette's provost, said, “Selecting the Odyssey as the summer reading assignment was a bold move on the part of the faculty committee. I confess that my first reaction was mixed: pleasure, of course, and excitement – but some hesitation. I feared this might become a lesson in failed idealism. But the results are encouraging. The Class of 2003 – which is one of the strongest classes we have ever had, at a college with an already fine academic reputation – rose to the occasion.”

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