Senior Moments: Chris Sheppard '08

You’ve seen Beowulf, the movie? This Oxford-bound classics major did his own translation of the poem from Old English

Hometown: Middletown, N.J.

Major: Classics, with a language emphasis.

How he ended up at a college 2,900 miles from home:
Blame Free Willy. “As a little kid, I remember asking my parents why New Jersey didn’t have mountains and whales,” he says. “The scenery in that movie struck me as being so beautiful.”

When it came time to look at colleges, he knew he wanted to attend a small, liberal arts school. That UPS came with mountains and easy access to saltwater was a definite plus.

Not always a classicist:
Back in high school Sheppard wanted to be a rock star. When he got to Puget Sound he enrolled in a Greek course “on a whim.” It was love at first declension.

“I still remember that first class with Professor [David] Lupher,” says Sheppard. “He was so passionate and engaging and inspiring. From day one I was drawn in by the classics’ balance of ‘foreignness’ and historical resonance.”

Poetry in motion:
Sheppard spent last summer translating the epic poem Beowulf from its original Old English.

“J.R.R. Tolkien started it all for me,” Sheppard says. “Most people know Tolkien as a fiction writer, but he was also quite a scholar, and I was excited when I learned Beowulf was a big influence for him.”

Sheppard set out to compare and contrast Beowulf and Homer’s ancient Greek epic poem the Iliad.

“My friends hassled me about how excited I got about it all, but they’ve come to expect this sort of thing from me,” he says. “Besides, it was a great excuse to study Old English.”

How, in 2008, does one learn Old English?
“I was a little surprised by the number of resources available,” says Sheppard, who notes that Introduction to Old English by University of Virginia Professor Peter Baker is a valuable guide for those who want to tackle similar projects.

“Professor Lupher taught himself Old English in college, so this gave him a chance to refresh and help me out,” says Sheppard.

And when he’s not translating West Germanic languages?
“Occasionally I can be persuaded to step away from my books,” he insists. At Puget Sound he’s been a peer advisor and Greek and Latin tutor, worked in the writing center, and participated in the honors program. He’s a coxswain on the men’s varsity rowing team, loves the outdoors, and plays the guitar and mandolin.

He translated the poem. Did he see the movie?
“No,” says Sheppard. “Partially out of fear that it will be another 300 disaster, but mainly because I haven’t had the time to see any movies recently.”

After graduation:
This fall he’ll enroll in the University of Oxford’s Master of Philosophy program, with an emphasis in Greek and Latin languages and literature. He plans to earn his doctorate and ultimately wants to teach at the college level.

“I’d love to return to the Northwest after graduate school,” he says. “UPS has been an amazing, fabulous fit for me.”

— Mary Boone