For Love of Stories

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Nancy Joseph 06/13/2019 June 2019 Perspectives

The English translation of Grecia Leal Pardo’s first name is “Greece,” reflecting her mother’s passion for the ancient world. As a child, Pardo did not share that passion. “I didn’t like my name,” she admits. “I thought Greece was dusty, boring, and old.”

Pardo (BA, Classics, Drama, 2019), who graduated from the UW in June, doesn’t think that anymore. As a double major in Classics and drama, the ancient world has been an integral part of her UW experience.

Born in Morelia, Mexico, Pardo immigrated to Chehalis, Washington with her family at age nine. Soon after, she warmed to the ancient world by reading Percy Jackson novels based on Greek myths. Then she read the Odyssey, Homer’s epic poem, and was hooked. “I was interested in how resonant it was to me thousands of years after it was written,” she says.

“Having faculty who are there for you and have faith in what you’re capable of achieving has been so essential to everything I’ve done at the UW,” says Grecia Leal Pardo.

After earning an associate’s degree at Centralia College through Running Start, Pardo arrived at the UW ready to take a deep dive into Greek and Roman literature. The Department of Classics offers four tracks for majors; Pardo chose the most challenging track, which requires studying both Latin and ancient Greek. She began taking courses in both languages during her first quarter at the University.

“There were times when I would ask myself, ‘Why am I doing this?’ Pardo laughs, remembering her ambitious start. “But I had really great professors. That was one of the motivating factors to keep going. They’re so passionate about what they do, and very supportive.”

There’s a lot of value to stories. They are such an essential part of society and how we develop.

Reading texts in Latin and Ancient Greek, Pardo was challenged not only by the language but also the need to understand the context of what she was reading. She occasionally peeked at English translations to be sure she was on the right track. Finding differences in contemporary interpretations added to her fascination.

“I came to Classics for my interest in the stories and the enduring quality of the literature,” Pardo says, “but I stayed because the more I learned, the more complex the ancient world became, and the more complex our relationship to the ancient world became. I wanted to unpack all that, and I wanted to do it by looking at original texts and then seeing the interpretations we’ve had.”

Pardo investigated further through the Homer Multitext Project, which aims to present the Iliad and Odyssey in all their complexity as orally composed works with no single, definitive written version. Working first at the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, DC during a summer seminar, and then at the UW with other Classics students and faculty, Pardo helped digitize Homer-related manuscripts and scholarly analyses for a searchable resource.

During a study abroad program in Tahiti, Pardo learned about South Pacific oral traditions — and got a healthy dose of sunshine. 

Drama provided another opportunity to explore ancient texts. After serving as assistant stage manager for a School of Drama production of Sueño, Pardo designed props for Euripides’ Medea and stage managed other productions for the UW’s Undergraduate Theater Society (UTS). Then she directed Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad — a book and play about Penelope from the Odyssey — also for UTS. Pardo felt the play reflected her interest in Classics but also had the potential to resonate with a broader undergraduate audience. “I liked how The Penelopiad focuses on women,” Pardo says. “It intersects class and gender and my interest in how history survives through choices we make as a society. It connects to the points I like in Classics and in drama.”

This year Pardo turned that directing experience into a Classics thesis, analyzing The Penelopiad and researching female perspectives in Homeric literature and Classical literature in general. She also partnered with fellow drama major Ryn Paris to co-direct another UTS production, a retelling of Aesop’s Fables. Wanting to present a play that was family-friendly, the directors considered choosing a familiar fairy tale, “but then we came up with Aesop’s Fables because as a Classics major I could bring in things I knew about Aesop, who lived in ancient Greece.”

...the more I learned, the more complex...our relationship to the ancient world became.

Whether Pardo is directing a Greek-inspired play or reading a 2000-year-old text, her interest is always grounded in storytelling. “There’s a lot of value to stories,” she says. “They are such an essential part of society and how we develop.” Even Pardo’s three month-long study abroad experiences (yes, three!) relate to storytelling. She attended an Italian Studies program in Rome that focused on cinema; an iSchool program in Tahiti that focused on South Pacific oral traditions and culture; and a Drama program in Scotland that explored the vast theater offerings at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Pardo attended 60 festival plays in one month, an experience she describes as “nuts, but also amazing.”

Many of Pardo’s experiences were possible thanks to scholarship support, including the national Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship for study abroad. The Jim Greenfield Scholarship and the Glenn Hughes Memorial Scholarship, from the Classics Department and School of Drama respectively, also provided much-needed support. “As a low-income student, those scholarships were really helpful financially,” Pardo says, “and because they came from my communities, they felt like yet another expression of my departments’ support and faith in me.”

Pardo will spend the summer working in the UW Undergraduate Research Program, where she has been an undergraduate staff assistant for the past three years. She hopes to pursue a PhD in performance studies — eventually but first she wants to take time to reflect so that her next steps are “deliberate and purposeful.” Wherever she lands, she knows her UW professors have been an important part of her journey.

“Having faculty who are there for you and have faith in what you’re capable of achieving has been so essential to everything I’ve done at the UW,” Pardo says. “They’ve pushed me and made me more confident in my abilities as an academic and artist. I owe them so much.”

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