2022 Graduates in Medieval and Renaissance Studies

A graduation luncheon and celebration was held in May for the 2022 Medieval and Renaissance Studies graduates with their parents and favorite professors at Café Parizade in Durham. The 2022 class includes Katie Cannon (major), Emma Keaton (minor), Emma Rand (major), Krishna Sinha (minor), Cassandra Stecker (major), and Arial Strode (minor). Like many humanities programs at Duke, Medieval and Renaissance Studies graduates a small number of majors and minors each year, though it may be surprising to know that over 850 current students have taken a MEDREN course as an elective. Our majors and minors are special, among the brightest students at Duke. They are intellectually curious and serious learners, and our majors are far more likely than the student body at large to complete a research honors project. No two Med-Ren students are alike, as will become apparent below.  

Photo of graduates
From left to right: Emma Rand, Cassandra Stecker, Krishna Sinha, Katie Cannon, and Emma Keaton (Ariel Strode not present).

Many of our majors and minors get their start as part of the Medieval and Renaissance Studies Focus program. Focus is Duke’s first-semester residential learning program, in which participants take two small-sized seminars on interdisciplinary topics with students who live in the same dorm. We offer the primary humanities program. Among our 2022 graduates, one of the minors and all three of the majors were part of our 2018 Focus program called “Scientists, Artists, and Lawyers in Medieval and Renaissance Europe,” directed by Professor Tom Robisheaux. Our Focus offering has had a major impact on our students’ selection of majors in the humanities and interpretive social sciences. A study of a recent five-year period shows that among Duke students at large 17% of the majors declared were in the humanities and interpretive social sciences—that’s quite good for a university whose largest majors are Economics, Computer Science, and Biology. But among our Med-Ren Focus students this percentage is 37.5%. Our Focus students declare majors in the humanities and interpretive social sciences at twice the rate of the rest of the student body. Many of these students get degrees in a STEM field but choose to complement this with humanities majors. This is no doubt due to the highly impactful quality of our faculty’s instruction and engagement with students. 

I ask our graduating majors each year to name faculty members whom they consider to be their “favorites” at Duke. For our 2022 majors, these Favorite Professors are Martin Eisner (Romance Studies), Tom Robisheaux (History), and Ed Triplett (Art, Art History and Visual Studies). There is a good reason these instructors have been singled out as Favorite Professors: they teach fascinating courses that our students love to take; they are passionate about what they teach; and they connect with students on a personal level and bring out the best in them. Our graduates recognize these professors’ significant contribution to their academic experience at Duke.  

We can’t properly celebrate what our graduates have accomplished without acknowledging that they have come through the most difficult time in history for college students. For half their college years, their junior and senior ones, they have had to endure the COVID pandemic in extreme circumstances. According to a new study by the Lumina Foundation and Gallup, 40% of all bachelor degree students found it difficult to keep up their motivation and sustain their resolve in 2020 and 2021, citing emotional stress, health concerns, and financial worries as some of the biggest barriers to staying in college during the pandemic. Understandably, coping with personal or family illness or loss of a loved one, losing jobs that help pay for college expenses, needing to help run family businesses or care for younger siblings, or just coping with the shift from in-person to remote learning would make not just staying in college but pursuing intellectual passions a crushing challenge. Emotional stress was by far the leading reason students considered withdrawing from college, and that cuts across all demographic categories. High levels of isolation, disrupted schedules and living arrangements, remote learning, and burnout among overworked faculty and staff combined to create a distressing college environment. We need, then, to reflect on how amazing all our graduates are to have come through so many obstacles to get to this day of celebrating their graduation and their significant accomplishments. They didn’t, though, get here by themselves, as I’m sure these students would emphasize: the decisive love and support of their parents and other family and their professors have been a vaccine against half-heartedness and resignation.  

Here are the graduates.  

Kathleen Canady Cannon is graduating Cum Laude with a double major in Medieval and Renaissance Studies and Romance Studies and a minor in Cinematic Arts, and she is a member of the Italian Honor Society. Katie was part of the 2018 Medieval and Renaissance Focus program and participated in Dr. Astrid Giugni’s summer digital humanities research project “Mapping Political Uncertainty in Revolutionary London in the 17th Century.” She also worked as an assistant in the Med-Ren program during her sophomore year. Katie has studied French and Italian languages and has been quite a traveler, having traveled in Europe before coming to Duke, and she followed her wander lust by studying in the Duke in LA program (focusing on film studies), and she sought out an immersive cross-cultural experience in the Duke in Venice program while the COVID pandemic led most of us to hole up in our homes. In the summer, Katie will be traveling in Europe with her sister, and in the fall she will start working in the film industry in Atlanta as a production assistant on a film set. In the future, Katie will apply for a Fulbright Scholarship to study abroad, and she plans to build a career in film production that incorporates her international and academic experiences. 

Emma Katherine Keaton is graduating with a major in Art History with a special focus on Museum Theory and Practice and minors in Medieval and Renaissance Studies and Italian Studies. She took courses with Professors Martin Eisner, Tom Robisheaux, and Ed Triplett, and actually ended up coming close to doing a major. She was recently inducted into Duke’s first cohort of Gamma Kappa Alpha, the National Italian Honor Society. Emma will be returning home to southwest Georgia this summer as she prepares to start graduate school in the fall at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, where she will work on a Master’s degree in Curating the Art Museum. In the future, she hopes to complete a PhD in Art History and go into curatorial work.  

Emma Camille Rand is graduating Magna Cum Laude with a double major in Environmental Sciences and Medieval and Renaissance Studies. She was part of the 2018 Medieval and Renaissance Focus Program, and she studied for two semesters at the Duke Marine Lab in the beautiful coastal town of Beaufort. Emma is graduating with honors in Medieval and Renaissance Studies. Her thesis, “Lisbon in Early Modern Cartography: A Critical and Digital Study of Chorography,” was directed by Dr. Edward Triplett in the Art, Art History and Visual Studies Department, and her committee awarded her thesis Highest Distinction. Emma will take this next year to find and prepare for a Master’s program that interests her, and she hopes eventually to pursue a career in academia or some field of research.  

Krishna Sinha is graduating Summa Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa with a major in Neuroscience and minors in Chemistry and Medieval and Renaissance Studies. He took courses with Martin Eisner and Ed Triplett. He was awarded Distinction for an honors thesis in Neuroscience, “Utilizing Novel Epigenomic Editing Tools to Regulate the Expression of the Immediate Early Gene Arc,” directed by Dr. Anne West from the Department of Neurobiology. This summer Krishna will be volunteering at Hospice of the Valley in Arizona and then scribing later in the year. I had to look up what “scribing” is in the medical field as I didn’t think Krishna was going to be in a monastery copying medieval books! He will be at the side of doctors documenting in real time what happens with patients. Krishna then has plans to attend medical school and become a physician.  

Cassandra Baldassano Stecker is graduating with a double major in History and Medieval and Renaissance Studies and a minor in Religious Studies. She was part of the 2018 Medieval and Renaissance Focus program and participated in Duke in Greece in the summer before the pandemic. She also worked as an assistant for the Med-Ren program during parts of her sophomore and junior years. She is graduating with honors in History, and her thesis, “Forgetting to Remember: The Creation of Seventeenth-Century French Calvinist Identities under the Edict of Nantes,” directed by Dr. Tom Robisheaux, was awarded Highest Distinction by her committee. Cassandra will spend some of this summer in Durham to begin a gap year to work and potentially travel before pursuing a Master’s degree in History at Columbia University the next year. Down the road, she expects to be in school for quite a while longer, whether studying history or something else. Whatever she does, she hopes that it will always challenge her intellectually and contribute to a lifelong pursuit of knowledge.  

Arial Strode is graduating with a double major in Political Science and English, with a minor in Medieval and Renaissance Studies. She was part of the 2018 Medieval and Renaissance Focus program. She took courses with Professors Tom Robisheaux and David Aers that focused on religion, theology, ethics, and politics. It’s no surprise that Arial will be working with AmeriCorps this upcoming year, and after that will likely pursue law school or graduate school. Long term, she wants to work in advocacy for marginalized communities, likely in the area of healthcare access.