A Winter Convocation on Friday, Jan. 19, celebrated the induction of new members into the Order of the Gown and featured an address from Professor of Classics Stephanie McCarter.

The University of the South held a Winter Convocation on Friday, Jan. 19, to induct new members into the Order of the Gown and, in the establishment of a new tradition, recognize the teaching and scholarship of the faculty by featuring remarks delivered by a University professor. This year, Professor of Classics Stephanie McCarter, Sewanee’s 2023 Faculty Excellence in Scholarship recipient and an award-winning scholar and translator, was selected to give the convocation address.

Prior to introducing McCarter, Vice-Chancellor Rob Pearigen reflected on the meaning of tradition. Observing that a new practice requires the passage of time in order to solidify into a tradition, Pearigen noted his amusement at the irony of labeling any event “the first annual” when it had yet to withstand the test of time. In defiance of his own skepticism, Pearigen shared his confidence that the new Winter Convocation tradition of featuring a faculty speaker will turn out to be a lasting one.

“If anything can be guaranteed,” said Pearigen, “it is that we will be able to identify a faculty member with outstanding teaching, scholarship, and mentorship to serve as speaker.” The bigger challenge, concluded Pearigen, would be choosing just one from so many worthy candidates among the extraordinary University faculty.

A professor in the College since 2008, McCarter’s teaching and research interests include Latin poetry, translation theory and practice, gender and sexuality in classical antiquity, feminist reception of the classics, and Greek and Roman philosophy and ethics. Her multiple published books include a recent translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, for which she became the first woman to translate the work into English verse and subsequently won the 2023 Harold Morton Translation Award from the Academy of American Poets.

During her remarks, McCarter spoke about the value of studying the humanities and their centrality to the mission of the liberal arts. Viewing such pursuits through the lens of translation, McCarter identified four driving forces for her work: being part of a long and ongoing conversation that stretches back millennia; framing the ancient past in a way that feels accessible to everyone; the pleasure of creativity; and the satisfaction of curiosity. The inquiry that follows from those driving forces, noted McCarter, leads to connections forged across time, distance, class, gender, or language. “To conduct such inquiry in community with others,” she added, “is how I would define the liberal arts.”

McCarter concluded her address with an exhortation for the present students. “Go take a course about a time, a place, or a people completely unfamiliar to you,” said McCarter. “Open yourself up to the possibility that it might resonate, or it might spark your curiosity and creativity, in ways you do not expect.”

Order of the Gown President Sofie Behr, C’24, thanked McCarter for her remarks and addressed the new members of the Order. Invoking concepts such as principles, integrity, respect, expression, and community, Behr urged the gathered students to consider membership in the Order as more than just recognition of their past achievements. “The gown is a symbol not just of academic success,” said Behr, “but also of your commitment to show up for your community.”

Vice-Chancellor Pearigen then formally admitted the new members of the Order of the Gown, concluding the ceremony. 

The Convocation was livestreamed for those unable to attend; the video is available below.