“The Odyssey Project is What School Was Supposed to Be”

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By Rebecca Amato, Director of Teaching and Learning

Read Time 2 minutes
May 13, 2023

On Saturday, May 13, Illinois Humanities was thrilled to celebrate the graduation of the 22nd class of Odyssey Project/Proyecto Odisea students. 

Nearly 50 graduates walked across the stage at the ceremony, generously hosted by the National Museum of Mexican Art, while more than a hundred family members, friends, Odyssey instructors and staff, and Illinois Humanities staff cheered them on.

As the Director of Teaching and learning and program lead for the Odyssey Project/Proyecto Odisea, I always find graduation to be the ultimate affirmation of what student-centered, community-based humanities education can offer learners who may not always see “school” as a welcoming place.

First-Year graduate, Doodle May Jenkins, said it best in her graduation day speech: 

“The Odyssey Project wasn’t school and I refuse to believe anything else. School is mandatory, school is a tool of control, school told me that my creativity didn’t matter… I slowly came to the realization that the Odyssey Project is what school was supposed to be.”

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    Graduate speaker Doodle May Jenkins spoke on behalf of the first-year South Side course. (Photos by Glitter Guts)

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Student after student shared these and similar sentiments on graduation day. They spoke of instructors who “love their jobs,” site coordinators and teaching assistants who helped make learning together feel “safe” and support a “sense of belonging,” and fellow students who became “like family.”

Our current students and graduates express better than anyone what the secret ingredients of Odyssey/Odisea are: time, care, patience, kindness, compassion, and authenticity. They will tell you that studying the humanities – history, literature, philosophy, and art history, among other subjects — demands that you sit in contemplation, both in solitude and community. They will remind us that people can have very different life experiences and opinions, but that reading and discussing together and sprinkling in those secret ingredients of patience and compassion can take us all to a place of greater understanding. And I believe they will insist that learning and changing your mind (or refining it) are necessary parts of being human.

I hope you will join me in congratulating the Odyssey Project/Proyecto Odisea Class of 2023 and share my joy in seeing these brilliant scholars shine on their special day.


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About The Odyssey Project/El Proyecto Odisea

The Odyssey Project believes that education is liberatory and should be accessible to all. This free college program empowers adult learners to jump-start their education in a supportive community of students and educators. Applications open annually on March 1.

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