Vassar made a sparkling debut in intercollegiate Russian Studies competition on April 13, when five students, a faculty member and a language fellow traveled to West Point to participate in an event unofficially nicknamed the Olympiada. Although the event, limited to first- and second-year students of Russian who are not native speakers, is now in its 12th year, this marked Vassar’s first foray into the competition—and that made the results all the more stunning. Henry Hollithron ’15 took first place at the intermediate level, while at the introductory level, Sean Keller ’16 and Jeremy Burke ’15 won first and second place overall, and Alycia Beattie ’16 garnered first place for her poetry reading performance.
Participants faced a grueling day that required them to flex their Russian–speaking skills by reciting a poem from memory; giving a monologue about themselves, and then answering questions about it from judges; and reading a text that they had just been presented. In addition, competitors at the introductory level were required to complete a written grammar test.
Competitors were then ranked in each category, with overall winners selected on the basis of those scores. Remarkably, Hollithron won each individual category as well as the overall competition at his level. As the hosts from West Point noted in a congratulatory e-mail, his “trifecta was probably the first ever at second-year [level] and maybe at any Olympiada, so far.” The judging was conducted by faculty from the six colleges and universities competing in the event—Vassar, West Point, Union College, SUNY Albany, SUNY Binghamton, and Hobart and William Smith Colleges—who took into account both the accuracy of the spoken Russian and the artistry of the presentations.
Vassar’s entry into the Olympiada was the brainchild of Charles H. Arndt III, Mellon Post Doctoral Fellow of Russian Studies, who had participated in the competition while teaching at Union, and who served as coach of the first-year students. The second–year team, which included Savanna Holcomb ’15 as well as Hollithron, was coached by Adjunct Instructor in Russian Studies Svetlana Otvertchenko. Russian Language Fellow Olesya Yelfimova served as assistant coach to all the students, and accompanied Arndt and the team to West Point.
“It is always electrifying to be part of this competition, because I am able to see first-hand how much the Russian language and culture have impacted the students’ lives,” Arndt said. “My goal in all of this is to show students that being able to communicate in Russian is a skill that opens doors to entirely new worlds in art, literature, music, and history, to name just a few. I am extremely proud of our students and their spectacular performance! I certainly hope Vassar is able to continue to send teams to this competition in the future.”
Photographs by Olesya Yelfimova