‘The Honor of Learning’ Lauren Hoaglund '22 has parlayed her passion for medieval and Renaissance history, literature, classics and theater into a busy but rewarding four years at W&L.
Hometown: Birmingham, Alabama
Major: English, Medieval and Renaissance Studies
“I still get the butterflies in my stomach when I step into new classes each semester. I just think about how lucky and blessed I am to be here at a school that has provided me with so much love and support.”
Q: Why did you decide to attend W&L?
I first visited W&L the fall of my junior year of high school when my older sister visited for a cross country recruitment. My dad and I toured the campus and the city, and I just fell in love. The next year I applied to 13 colleges just trying to find the right fit from a personal and financial perspective. W&L was always in my top choices because my sister could not stop talking about how much she loved the school, but I was not sure until I was lucky enough to be invited to Johnson Scholarship Competition Weekend.
When I stepped onto campus this time, I looked at it as if it could be my home for the next few years. I had visited and applied to so many schools by this point that I did not think that I could possibly be impressed. Then I walked into Payne Hall, the home of the English Department and Medieval and Renaissance Studies Program, and met Professor Holly Pickett and Professor Genelle Gertz. I talked to Professor Gertz for about 20 minutes and to Dr. Pickett for 45, and to tell you the truth, my college search was over after I left the Mason Taylor New room.
For the next few weeks, I waited with bated breath hoping to receive the scholarship. When the congratulatory email came, I completely broke down and called my sister, who proceeded to scream with me for about 10 minutes. I have never felt so grateful and blessed. I still get the butterflies in my stomach when I step into new classes each semester. I just think about how lucky and blessed I am to be here at a school that has provided me with so much love and support.
Q: What made you decide on your three areas of study?
My parents could have always told you that I was obsessed with the medieval and Renaissance time periods. As a third grader I became obsessed with historical fiction novels that centered around the Tudor time period. The same year I begged my mother to let me dress up as Queen Elizabeth I for Halloween. The following years, I could not help but become absolutely enthralled as my favorite elementary school teacher taught me about the feudal system and the Reformation.
My obsession did not stop there. Throughout high school, my interest and passion for the subject only grew. When I had the opportunity to write two large theses and research papers my junior and senior years of high school, I found myself completely drawn to the medieval and Renaissance time periods. I wrote papers on an Italian warlord’s death in Renaissance Italy and traced the evolution of medieval canon law into the modern-day Catholic church. After these two papers, it seemed that my interest in these areas was only going to grow. I looked into colleges that would allow me to explore the time periods that had captured my passions. I even included my intention to major in medieval and Renaissance studies on my graduation announcement senior year.
I knew that English was going to be a path that I wanted to explore as soon as I met my current adviser, Dr. Holly Pickett. No one could talk to her without falling in love with the idea of studying Shakespeare for the rest of their life. I had always thought that everyone loved talking about Shakespeare as much as I did until I entered college. It was not until I took my first Shakespeare class that I discovered that my love for his works far outweighed many of my peers. It was then that I knew that Shakespeare was going to be the conversion of both of my areas of study. I wanted the skills to analyze passages critically from a literary standpoint while also understanding the extreme political, social and religious implications of the time period by studying the history and context of the time.
As for my classics minor, my older sister who graduated from W&L this past spring was a classics and religion double major and is really passionate about what she does. My sisters and I grew up going to a classical school where we learned Latin for the first time in third grade, so Latin was a big part of my life for a very long time. As my sister began to absolutely excel throughout college and in her studies, I could not help but fall a little back in love with classics. Nothing is more exciting than seeing someone else excited about their area of study. Last fall, I declared a classics minor because my sister had reminded me of the richness and beauty of the time period that informed so much of the time period that I have spent my life studying.
Overall, I am astounded every day by the things that I learn about medieval and Renaissance studies. The people who lived five or six centuries ago are facing the same problems that we are. They dealt with plague, politics, war, love and loss all while creating art, literature and music, and searching for the meaning in life.
Q: What can you share about your work with Professor Holly Pickett and your independent study with the Advanced Studies in England Program?
I could share a million moments, anecdotes and endless knowledge that I acquired over quarantine summer. I am so grateful that Dr. Pickett included me with her summer research. She has so much skill as a scholar and academic, and I have so much to learn from her. I spent time looking over her manuscript and finding extra sources and adding opinions and areas for more research where I could. We were supposed to be able to travel to England for about a month before COVID-19 made those plans impossible, but I still learned so much and had a such an amazing time.
The Advanced Studies in England Program was a last-minute addition to my summer schedule. I was scrambling to make plans that would allow me to stay at home but still gain the exposure and experience I wanted from the summer. This program was the perfect way to do this. With the help of a few grants that the school was generous enough to award me, I was able to register for an independent study with Professor Nikki Clark. We designed an entire course on the subject of space and gender in the Tudor court. It was an absolute dream to explore so many of my interests with an expert in the field. Quarantine was a difficult time for everyone, and I am so grateful that I was able to focus on something that makes me happy: my academic interests. We spent about a month diving into the details of Tudor court and the way that gender affected every aspect of life. I ended up writing my final paper about the liminal space and social mobility that widows in this time period held after the death of their husbands. In so many ways, women were caught in an impossible position where they virtually held no power over their own lives. However, if they were left with status and money after their husband’s deaths, they had the opportunity in some cases to gain a power and autonomy that was completely beyond their reach before.
This year, after another summer of research and studying (this time with professor Gertz and her immensely fascinating research on the Scottish mystic Elizabeth Melville), I will be starting my English honors thesis on Shakespeare’s female queens examined through the lens of the reigns of the early modern queens. Shakespeare is in a way rewriting the history of his time period by creating queens like Lady Macbeth, Cleopatra and Gertrude, who fail in their role and ultimately meet horrific ends despite the fact that Queen Elizabeth I and Catherine de Medici and, to some extent, Mary I of England all ruled with immense success. My research opportunities with these amazing professors over the past two summers have been invaluable to my creation of a research topic and continuously help me with my analysis of this really complex area of history and literature.
Q: You sing in the choir and have held leading roles in six – six! – theater productions at W&L so far. How does your involvement in the performing arts contribute to your overall experience at W&L?
The performing arts have shaped my experience at W&L since day one. I auditioned for my first show here two days into O-week freshman year and have only had one semester without a performance in the last three years. Theater has been a means of escape and creativity for me throughout my years here. I performed a lot during high school and always found a great sense of comfort in the theater, so it was certainly something I wanted to continue when I was looking for a college.
Each production provides its own set of challenges, hurdles, successes and failures. I know that the times I have learned the most have been when my directors push me to understand the characters I am playing in new and often very difficult ways. Theater is such an incredible way to get to know yourself and other people so much better. There is something so beautiful about being vulnerable on stage and in performance. I think you also gain so much from taking on the emotions and situations of someone else once and a while, too. I take a little part of every character I have played with me, and I think that helps me to become a better and more well-rounded version of myself. I would like to say that I took a lot of Titania the Queen of the fairies with me, but I think Amy from “Little Women” may have stuck with me the most. I will miss acting, the lessons I learn from being on stage, and people I can connect with during performances so much in the following years.
I cannot mention my time in W&L theater without thanking Professor Jemma Levy, who was my professor the fall of freshman year. She cast me in my first straight play at W&L a semester later and my very first full-length Shakespeare play ever a year later. A year after that, she graciously agreed to lead my independent study on Shakespearean acting. It is because of Jemma that I have developed a deep love for Shakespearean acting and for the bard in general. I am eternally grateful for her guidance, encouragement and expertise. I believe so wholeheartedly in learning about the time periods I love in a full way, and I know that the lessons I have learned from acting Shakespeare have only deepened my love for the early modern time period, and Shakespeare specifically.
Q: What have you gained from your time as a student representative to the Faculty Executive Committee, an ambassador to the Office of Inclusion and Engagement, and a student archivist with Hillel House?
I have gained so much from all of my involvement in other activities at W&L. Each of my positions and involvements on campus are intimately important to my experiences on this campus and as a student. I was always really involved and busy in high school, and that is something I really wanted to continue in college. Everything about this campus is rich with culture and immense value. I have been so lucky to have been able to meet so many people through all of my activities. At the end of the day, that is what I love about this campus and why I am so involved in activities around campus. I love the people at this school and will miss them all dearly.
I would also be remiss if I did not mention my new role as president of W&L’s chapter of Omicron Delta Kappa (ODK). I could not be more grateful to hold this position on campus, and I really cannot wait to see all of the amazing things we as an organization will do. After a year that limited a lot of our ability to connect with people and organize events, I am so excited to see how we can make ODK even more relevant to the student body and be a real promoter of change on this campus. I love W&L and all that this school has done for me, but I am also ready to enact some change through this wonderful platform of ODK!
Q: Who has been your biggest mentor at W&L?
I would not be at W&L or studying English, Shakespeare and medieval history without Professor Holly Pickett. She is the adviser for both of my majors, my confidant, my mentor and my academic idol. She has taught me four classes on Shakespeare and continuously encouraged my questions, research and future goals, many times believing in my abilities in moments when I cannot. She has and will continue to be such a gift in my life. From the moment that I met her in the Mason Taylor New room three years ago, she has never failed to continuously encourage me to reach my full potential. I am so unbelievably grateful to her, and I cannot wait until we can go back to the American Shakespeare Center and talk for hours about a performance.
Q: What do you plan to do after you graduate?
Over the next year, I will be applying to graduate programs for medieval and early modern literature and English. I am looking at some masters programs abroad and a lot of PhDs here in the states. It will definitely be a difficult and long process, and leaving W&L will make me so unbelievably sad, but I cannot wait to see how the classes that I have taken, the people I have met and the professors I have had the honor of learning from have prepared me for my next stage in life.
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More About Lauren
What is your personal motto or favorite saying?
I don’t know if I have a favorite saying, but my favorite Shakespeare quote is from Beatrice in “Much Ado About Nothing”: “I was born to speak all mirth and no matter.” In moments where life is just too serious, I like to return to this quote. It always makes me smile.
What’s your favorite shop or restaurant in Lexington?
The PALMS is my all-time favorite Lex restaurant!
What do you get there?
I used to get the fried green tomato caprese sandwich, but they no longer have that on the menu. Now, I have the Southern grilled cheese. (But I am also a huge fan of the Southern Inn Brussels sprouts.)
What’s your favorite spot on campus?
I have a few favorite spots, and they have changed over the past year because of COVID-19 regulations. But I always love Payne Hall, Newcomb Hall and my current personal favorite, the Maz (or the Maslansky, the small black box theater in Lenfest). It is always so quiet, allowing me to work or rehearse or really anything!
What book or film do you recommend to everyone?
Disney’s “Hunchback of Notre Dame” (I have a lot of favorite films, but few have continued to be so solidly in my top films of all time).
As for books, everyone should read Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew.” It is a very contentious play, but one of my favorites.
What’s the one food you can’t do without?
I cannot live without tea. It is not a food, but any and all kinds of tea are a huge part of my life. I have a tea set and love nothing more than to brew a late afternoon tea and get my work done!
Favorite W&L event?
My favorite event is Parents and Family Weekend. I have always loved bringing my family to campus and showing them the places that I love!
Favorite place you’ve ever been?
San Gimignano in Tuscany. It is an almost perfectly preserved medieval Italian town outside of Florence, complete with the most amazing gelato and a museum on medieval torture.