Senior Retrospectives: Noah Purdy

Noah Purdy is an art history major with correlates in Greek and Roman Studies and French and Francophone Studies. During his four years at The Miscellany News, he has served as Arts Editor, Senior Editor and Contributing Editor. He also served as the ART 105/106 intern his senior year. He is the recipient of the Reno Prize in Greek and the Frances Daly Fergusson Prize in art history.

Having earned the nickname “wordy Purdy” at The Miscellany News, either for my verbose sentences or love of copy editing, I sit rather ashamedly at a loss for words. How can I sum up four formative years at Vassar in just a few columns?

So much of my college experience has been spent grappling with words, though, that I cannot be shocked that they are failing me now.

For one, I’m honored to have my words printed for a last time in the Misc, a publication I’ve worked for in many capacities during all four years of college. I took a chance my first year and joined Vassar’s storied newspaper, looking perhaps to find my voice among many. I think that voice still has a ways to go, but I can say without hesitation that I found a wonderfully opinionated bunch to learn from and with, a team to work long hours and late nights alongside and, importantly, a group of friends. The pride we all took in seeing our words and images, our puns and captions and our collaborations and energies emerge week after week in print made the struggles worth it and bonded us in ways I’ll always hold dear.

Words also cropped up in the many languages I took while at Vassar. I’ve loved every moment of struggling through an Ancient Greek lexicon to finally have an ancient story come alive, of trying out French slang while abroad, of reading a new alphabet in Arabic classes and of picking up scattered words from friends in Hindi, Spanish, Russian, Croatian, Catalan, German and more. Languages allow me to adopt voices that I didn’t know I had, and to find my own voice within them. Words that feel foreign, that don’t belong to me, can become familiar, and I’m grateful to those that shared theirs with me.

My art history major has also, somewhat paradoxically, deepened my relationship to language. I would often jot down in the margins of my notes catchy turns of phrase or striking descriptions from lectures, as if grasping onto the articulations would freeze that moment of clarity or of beauty in time. Art history can feel like a grand exercise in the failure of words, since no matter how eloquent a reading, a history or a description is, there’s nothing like the silent wonder of an artwork speaking to you in its own forms.

What I may miss most of all, though, in terms of language, are the more incidental cases: the hours-long conversations with fellow-group members who turned into buddies and then into four-year housemates and close friends; the wisecracks, endless puns and inside jokes shared with friends, acquaintances and classmates; the daily inspiration from professors with a passion for sharing knowledge.

I could attempt a reflection on four years at Vassar in a million different ways. Each version of my experience would capture just one side of this messy, bittersweet, joyful, frustrating and fun period of growth, failing well in its own way. My fellow classmates have their own millions of stories, many of which intersect, and I think we’re the richer for it. Our words and those we’ve absorbed make memories, and I hope we cling to them going forward.

Where words don’t fail me, however, is in the expressions of gratitude I have to give. To Tyler, Sabrina and Tori, Vassar wouldn’t have been what it was if not for you three, and neither would I.

To Christine and Lydia, we met in the city of lights and you’ve brought me brightness ever since.

To Evelyn and Elena, for warming my heart.

To Charlotte, Talya and Laila, for your admirable dedication, creativity and intelligence, but most of all your friendship.

To the entire Art History Department, and in particular my advisors Yvonne Elet and Brian Lukacher, thanks for the wisdom, patience and the infinite ways of seeing—I’m immensely lucky to have benefited from your guidance and inspiration, and I carry it forward.

To the Greek and Roman Studies Department, especially Rachel Friedman, I’ll be forever glad I took the leap; thanks for the aporia and the poroi alike.

To the French and Francophone Studies Department, VWPP and Jeong Hee and Peter, merci mille fois.

To my Uncle Matthew and Aunt Dale, for the cheering-on and the many Thanksgivings, the latter of which I owe you in heaps.

To my family, near and far, for the endless support. To my mom, dad and brother, for a lifetime of laughs and love, which are one and the same.

And to everyone I didn’t name or neglected to mention, my apologies—I’ll fail better next time. Thanks all for being part of my story and for letting me be part of yours, to whatever extent.

I guess I still have to work on finding my voice because I want to end with words written by my late grandfather, who composed poetry in his basement since way before I was born and published his first book of poems in his 90s. Vassar, like life thus far, has been as long and tumultuous as it has been short and joyful, and the kindnesses—in words and in actions, both great and small—will forever stick with me: “Gently know others, for others are you.”

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