Gillespie Defies The Classical

For Caitlin C. Gillespie ’05, who has been selected to deliver the Latin Oration at today’s Commencement ceremony, the Latin language has always had a special draw.

“I’ve been studying Latin since I was 11 years old,” explains the Wilmette, Il. native. “Now, I tell people that I’m an English concentrator but in a better language,” she adds with a smile.

“Latin is beautiful. I prefer a world that is imagined in Latin—in its myths, syntax, and poetry.”

Gillespie even admits to choosing Harvard for its Classics Department and its traditional Latin Oration at Commencement.

“When I was a junior in high school, my father said, ‘You should apply to Harvard. They have a Latin speech,’” she says with a laugh.

For Gillespie, who will be delivering her five-minute oration today alongside two orations in English, the idea of being the Latin Orator has been on her mind ever since.

She says that she has been thinking about possible topics for her speech all semester and making lists of the “seminal events” of the last four years, but she did not start writing until spring break, when she came upon a theme that she deemed oration-worthy.

“I was trying to figure out what defines our class and what defines our year. Baseball seemed an obvious choice,” Gillespie says.

The oration, entitled “The Campus Somniorum” or “The Field of Dreams” enacts an extended conceit between Harvard’s and America’s athletic pastime—comparing each year of her college education to one base on the diamond.

In keeping with the light tone of the Latin oration, Gillespie says that she even may deliver hers in costume—in baseball cleats, that is.

“Harvard is a field of dreams. We can do anything here—and we have,” she says.

This Commencement, everyone attending the ceremonies will receive an English translation of Gillespie’s speech and English subtitles will simultaneously be projected onto large screens flanking the stage.

THE CHOSEN ONE

With Commencement Day upon her, Gillespie says that she is beginning to feel more and more nervous. When she practiced on stage with microphones this week, Gillespie finally got a sense of the vast crowds that she would face from the podium.

“There are like a million and one chairs out there,” she says.

But Gillespie has more than prepared for her big day—if only on account of her other passion—dance. A life-long gymnast, dancer, and choreographer, she is a veteran of the stage, even if she is a rookie to public addresses.

Gillespie spent her college years as a member of Mainly Jazz and City Step, and also choreographed and stage-managed a number of shows around campus. This summer, she also interned with the Irish Modern Dance Theater in Dublin.

“For me, dance is the ultimate form of expression,” she says.

The dancer-turned-speaker has also spent the last month rehearsing pronunciation drills “nearly everyday,” fine-tuning her dynamics and gestures with a vocal coach at the American Repertory Theatre.

As the chosen orator, Gillespie is still somewhat self-selected—only three students applied to give the Latin oration this year.

Nonetheless, Richard J. Tarrant, Pope professor of Latin language and literature and chair of the Commencement orator competition, says that the selection process can be quite rigorous.

Applicants submitted their completed orations to a panel of eight judges earlier this spring. Judges then held two rounds of “auditions” for the strongest applicants.

“We look for lines that will entertain the audience,” Tarrant writes in an e-mail. “Caitlin’s Boston Red Sox theme was clever and timely, and we thought it would appeal to a wide audience. But she also has a very engaging personality—one of the judges said that she has ‘a smile in her voice.’”

Gillespie will spend this summer at home, before traveling to Oxford, England this fall to complete a masters degree in Greek and Latin language.

—Staff writer Kimberly A. Kicenuik can be reached at kicenuik@fas.harvard.edu.