Penn State

Jennifer E. Graham - Associate Professor of Biobehavioral Health, Penn State University Park

Book Title: Leaves of Grass

Author: Walt Whitman

Book Description:

I am an Associate Professor of Biobehavioral Health, but at the core of my academic heart is poetry. As an English major at Cornell, I particularly relished in writing long papers about poems, reading into just a few lines all the meaning and hope in the world. However, when I found myself wanting to analyze word use in poetry for an honors project, I was steered toward Psychology and fell in love with research methods. Nonetheless, there remain underpinnings of poetry in my current research, which examines how emotional and cognitive stress responses (sometimes indexed by word use) relate to health.

I love this amazing book of poetry for many reasons. But perhaps above all else, for its depth and its passion. It is certainly self-celebratory, but also self-deprecating and humble. Whitman relishes in beauty and nature, while acknowledging human nature and hardships; he extols freedom, while assuming grave and moral responsibility; and he is accepting and yet wildly defiant about what he sees around him. This too is how I see myself, in that I hope not to confine myself to any one perspective or one aspect of myself. And thus the wonderful quote:

Do I contradict myself?

Very well then I contradict myself,

(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

As much as I love academia and my career, it can be difficult to succeed in academia without losing part of yourself. I don’t just mean the challenge of achieving a balanced life, but of retaining ones humanity and uniqueness. Knowing about this Library program for tenure recipients actually provided me a source of hope pre-tenure. I rediscovered this book during that time and found that it rekindled a certain sense of myself. I thus use it not to congratulate myself on receiving tenure, but on having done so without being diminished. I have not been diminished! And I will continue to sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world, and hope that all others who read this will too.


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