Recognition reflection: Two Daily literary reporters on what graduating from CLSC means to them

Proud Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle 2012 graduates Jennifer Shore and Sara Toth, the 2012 and 2009–2010 Chautauquan Daily literary reporters, respectively, hold up their diplomas on Recognition Day Aug. 8. Photo by Adam Birkan.

Each year, The Chautauquan Daily literary reporter spends the summer talking to authors, researching, reading and writing.

He or she typically writes a minimum of five stories per week, which covers the Writers’ Center, the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle, the CLSC Alumni Association and the Chautauqua Literary Arts Friends.

With the responsibilities to the paper, reading all of the CLSC selections proves difficult for most, but this year, the current literary reporter and the 2009–2010 literary reporter graduated from CLSC.

Both wanted to share their connection to the Institution and first-hand experience as CLSC graduates.

Jennifer Shore | Staff Writer

If you read my article on having lunch with two CLSC authors — Geraldine Brooks and Tony Horwitz — earlier in the season, you know I ran out of the Afterwords Café, chased after the pair and yelled at them.

In the same spirit, after archivist Jon Schmitz spoke to the Daily staff before the season began, I sprinted out of the newsroom to speak with him.

Although I am a fifth-generation Chautauquan and second-year Daily employee, I have never taken the chance to explore my family’s connection to the Institution.

My family spent many summers on the grounds, but because we never owned a home or joined CLSC, there was no real record of my mother’s, grandmother’s, great-grandmother’s or great-great grandmother’s time.

Well, I figured as the literary reporter, I was going to read all the books anyway, so why not be the first person in my family to graduate? It seemed easy enough — until Peg Snyder on the CLSC Veranda told me I would need to have 12 books read by the beginning of July.

Luckily, I had already read Horoscopes for the Dead by Billy Collins, The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore and Poems to Live By in Troubling Times by Joan Murray (who visited the Writers’ Center during Week One), but I needed to read nine other books within a short period of time instead of the entire summer — like I planned.

Eventually, she emailed me and pushed back the due date, but I did have a two-and-a-half week reading marathon before the season got underway. (I mean, there could be worse ways to spend your time.)

Throughout the summer, my experience joining CLSC was more than just joining. I had the privilege to get career advice from the authors I interviewed, and I spent time with the Chautauqua Literary Arts Friends and ate plenty of delicious food at their potlucks.

Wally Rees, the president of the CLSC Class of 2012, was incredibly charming and helpful this summer, and without his insight into Recognition Day and other random happenings, my stories this summer would have had major holes.

I want to express the tremendous respect, love and admiration I have for Sherra Babcock, the director of the Department of Education. I have trouble believing anyone is as busy as or works as hard with an ounce of the class she has. I’m in awe of her grace and dignity, which pairs with her love for reading and education as an unbeatable combination.

Many people consider reading and writing to be a lonely activity, but with a summer like the one I have had, CLSC brought good books and great people into my life, and I’m grateful for the opportunity.

Sara Toth | Former Staff Writer

I first joined the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle in a mild act of desperation: I was leaving Chautauqua after my third and final summer as a reporter for the Daily, and I wanted a reason — an excuse, really — to keep returning to this special place.

Though, it was more than desperation, truly. After covering the literary arts for two summers, I realized that the CLSC was a combination of two things I love most in this world: Chautauqua and the written word. It only seemed natural to me that I become a member, when I already felt so ingrained in the traditions I’d observed and on which I reported.

Now, I am a CLSC graduate. My diploma is framed and proudly hanging on my apartment wall in Baltimore.

Other diplomas just like it are in homes literally around the world, and ones dating back more than a century are hanging in the Literary Arts Center. I’m more than 300 miles from Chautauqua as I write this, but I’m not so far removed as those men and women in the late 1800s were, when CLSC was truly a mail-order education program. I’m still largely absent, but I feel closer now to Chautauqua than I ever have been.

It’s such a lofty ideal John Vincent and Lewis Miller sought to attain with CLSC, and it’s an ideal we’re still trying to realize. In his poem “Andrea del Sarto,” Robert Browning wrote: “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” The heaven CLSC sought — and the heaven Chautauqua sought — is a constant journey toward self-actualization, or the concept of lifelong learning.

The whole nature of that journey is that the journey’s never over. We have to keep grasping after it, like Browning’s painter. And the grasping makes it all the more beautiful — as beautiful as the quaint traditions of Recognition Day, and as beautiful as the feeling I had when walking through the lines of past CLSC graduates, generations of classes, as they all welcomed me into their midst.

Now, I am a product of two traditions almost as old as the Institution itself: the CLSC and the Daily. Both have irrevocably changed my life, and turned me into a more knowledgeable, self-actualized human being.

That’s really what CLSC and Chautauqua, and the concept of life-long learning — boils down to: the betterment of oneself. I know that I, like countless other men and women before me, am a better person because of Chautauqua and the CLSC.

I am a Daily alum, and I am a member of the CLSC Class of 2012. My entire life is supported by the pillars of understanding I built here: a pursuit of knowledge, an appreciation for the arts, an exploration of my spirit and the love of my friends.

And now, if I’m lucky, I’ll get to keep building all of those pillars, higher and higher toward my ideal — on the spines of good books, and the backbone of belonging.

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