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Cambridge Seminar

Students led by English teachers Suzanne Hannay and John Palmer will travel from Arms Building Classroom 52 across the Atlantic Ocean to Cambridge University for the last time, ending a program that began in 1980. However, this year, as 14 students from the class of 2012 pack their bags for a spring break of lectures, seminar papers, and the streets of England, an incredible journey comes to a close. For financial reasons, Cambridge University is unwilling to continue its connection with the Seminar.

Ms. Hannay, the founder of the course, recalls the beginning “ …the most imaginative project of my career” as a tedious and frustrating correspondence via snail mail, at one point even flying a flight to Toronto to meet with a professor who never showed. Eventually, however, due to much persistence, Ms. Hannay woke at 4:00 a.m. to make a transatlantic phone call to Dr. Leslie Wayper, a member of the university’s senate who assured her all was settled and arranged for the first visit in March, 1980, of eight students from St. Agnes School in Alexandria, Virginia.

Though initially concerned with the age of students on campus, the University was assured by Ms. Hannay that “the students will be 18” (exactly when, she did not feel the need to specify). Once the students were in Cambridge, the University provided lectures from esteemed historians and literary scholars who were surprised at the group’s bold questions.

Ms. Hannay recalled one student addressing a particularly eminent lecturer, “Yes, but, sir, you didn’t answer my question.”

Ms Hannay explained, “Every year was always fresh, always new, always a learning experience.”

As this class draws to a close, Mr. Palmer, who only began his participation with the DA program in 1993, plans to embark on another learning experience with a new senior course next year. “The class will involve similar content to this year’s course,” commented Mr. Palmer, who reads Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot, William Faulkner, Sylvia Plath, Vladimir Nabokov, Graham Greene, and Toni Morrison, among others, with his seniors.

“However, we are also planning on bringing in guest lecturers around campus such as [math teacher] Mr. Barnes, and [Academic Dean] Mr. Warsaw, who will provide context and perspective to the new course,” Mr. Palmer explained.

Though Mr. Palmer looks forward to this new project, he remarked on his experience with the Cambridge course as “the most intense, powerful time I’ve had with a group of kids.” And, as the year slowly draws to a close, he prepares to say goodbye to a course that has inspired generations of students.

“It was,” Ms. Hannay simply stated, “wonderful.”

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