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A Reckless Attention to Grammar

Michael Grathwohl ’15 can’t hide his delight when asked about the relevance of the Oxford comma.

“I am definitely for it,” he says, surprised and amused by the question. “Aren’t you? No one might notice if you don’t use it, but sometimes the lack of an Oxford comma can hilariously skew things.” Later he says he will email me an example about a stripper and Stalin, and the example proves Grathwohl’s point.

“Fewer commas mean more clarity, but I am definitely for the Oxford comma,” he says.

After graduation and before embarking on graduate school, the English major looks forward to returning to an internship he had last summer at Duke University Press.

“It was good to be in an environment where a reckless attention to grammar and detail was appreciated,” he explains. “I was batting clean up. I caught second mistakes but had free rein to make my own corrections.” Grathwohl proofed a final copy against the edited copy that sometimes had as many as four different editors, each with a different color of ink.

“It was an interesting conversation being played out in the edits,” he says. “Seeing how the editorial process happens was really instructive.”

He recently presented twice at Earlham’s Annual Research Conference — once as a Library Fellow and a second presentation, “Subjectivity and Romantic Landscape Painting,” was from a Ford/Knight research opportunity with Associate Professor of English Scott Hess. The latter presentation grew out of his Newberry Library semester program studying and writing about the construction of the transcontinental railroad and frontier mythology.

“This interest came from a combination of classes with Scott that focused on nature and the different ways Americans write about nature. We read a lot of literature from the American frontier, and it was something I wanted to explore at the Newberry.”

The Newberry experience culminated in a 20-minute presentation and a lengthy paper.

“County atlases from the west during 1850-1880 combine maps and landscape paintings in an interesting way,” he explains. “You have a map, and then you have smaller peripheral landscape paintings. A good deal of scholarship exists about the cartographic aspects of landscape paintings. You might think that maps and paintings are on opposite ends of the spectrum: maps are practical, utilitarian and paintings are purely aesthetic. They have more similarities than I originally thought in how they represent land and space.”

An interest in libraries began during Grathwohl’s semester at the Newberry Library, and he applied and was selected to be a Library Fellow at Earlham. Library Fellows complete a 135-hour practicum and a one-credit tutorial during 15 weeks of the spring semester and receive a $1,500 stipend less taxes. The program is designed to be hands-on career exploration.

Beginning in the fall, Grathwohl intends to apply to graduate schools for library science and English.

“I will apply to both and see what happens,” he says. “I could see myself in a library, or I could see myself as an English professor or a senior editor at a university press. The library is more of a group project while the Duke internship is solitary most of the time. That’s the sort of choice I will have to make.”

Throughout his time at Earlham, he is the unusual student who has made time for pleasure reading.

“Perhaps this is to the detriment to my school work, but I read the New York Times on Sunday, and I have a bad habit of reading poetry or fiction, academic work that I haven’t been assigned,” he admits.

In addition, he plays bluegrass guitar and is a member of Earlham’s Ultimate Frisbee Team.

“It is a combination of basketball and football,” he says. “I was a runner for a long time, so I love the amount of movement it requires. And throwing and catching a disk is aesthetically pleasing. Ultimate Frisbee players are a lively, vibrant community. Yes, you want to win and embarrass the other player, but there’s a 99 percent chance the other person will help you up if he knocks you down.” 

Michael Grathwohl

Michael Grathwohl 2015

Hometown: Chapel Hill, N.C.

Major at Earlham: English

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