It is midnight on a Wednesday, and a chapter of my senior thesis is due to my adviser tomorrow. Overwhelmed by all that remains to be done, I close my laptop and take in my surroundings. The walls are lined with ornate wood paneling, slivers of moonlight shine through the windows, and the chalkboard is covered with indecipherable scribbles from whatever the semiotics seminar covered earlier here in East Pyne 111, the Dante Room. Despite the long night of work ahead of me, I feel intensely grateful to have snagged the best late-night study spot on campus.
The name “Dante Room” comes from legendary Professor Robert Hollander, who taught The Divine Comedy here for decades. I am familiar with the dedication plaque on the wall: “Here, Professor Robert Hollander ’55 taught the Divine Comedy for 35 years: Generations of devoted students were inspired by his teaching.” In the first part of Dante Alighieri’s 14th-century epic poem, Dante travels through Hell accompanied by the Roman poet Virgil. Sometimes the downward spiral of the Inferno resonates with my own descent into academic turmoil. In the Dante Room, I experience the three stages of paper writing: “Inferno” as I labor over each sentence, “Purgatorio” as I read through what I have written, and “Paradiso,” still to come, when I will click the send button.
I know that many people have struggled through late nights in this room before me. It is comforting: Tradition suggests that the work will get done. I think of nights passing around bags of popcorn with friends at this table as Dean’s Date approached. I think of running into classmates who were working here, our relationships bonded through the sleepless hours shared. Suddenly, I get a text on my phone: What could anybody need at 2 a.m.? “Where are you working?” a friend asks.
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