Campus / News / November 11, 2015

Honors Profile: Kayleigh O’Brien

Senior Kayleigh O’Brien can be found in her honors office in Seymour Library alternating between pouring over analyses of Roman and Greek classics and watching Kanye West music videos.

The Greek and Roman Culture major is passionate about classics and relating them to modern-day pop culture.

“One hundred and fifty years ago, if you were gonna study at all in school … you studied Latin and Greek,” O’Brien said. “Everybody read those.”

But she worries for the field’s future. At Knox, for instance, she is one of just four seniors to graduate from the department this year.

“Honestly, classics is gonna die if people don’t start looking at where it’s used in culture and defining it by where it exists, which is what some scholars are talking about now,” she said.

Her project makes those connections through a comparative analysis of ancient Roman spectacle to modern music videos, like those by Kanye West.

O’Brien used West’s video for “Power” to explain the kind of analysis that she’s doing. Kanye’s visuals recall Hellenistic, or Greek, kings, she explained. Many of the video’s details reference ancient cultures: his large eyes signify his ability to glimpse divinity, his gold chain bears the head of the Egyptian god, Horus.

O’Brien laid the groundwork for her honors project while studying abroad in Rome through a Duke University program. She received early approval for Honors as well as a Richter grant for her studies.

While abroad, she began to analyze the “Power” video and put her thoughts together on film, compiling a YouTube video that identified classical elements in the pop culture hit.

Another video O’Brien is analyzing is Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse,” which is entirely Egyptian-themed.

To her, the video offers an opportunity explore deeper meaning in popular culture.

“Everything’s intentional,” O’Brien said. “We should be asking why is this happening … how are [classical elements] used now and how are we as a culture interpreting them?”

O’Brien has enjoyed working on her research, a projected 50 pages in its entirety. She’s glad to be working closely with professors, which she said is an experience she’s never had until now at Knox.

“I definitely feel like my professors care about me and they want me to succeed first as a person and be happy — happy with my work and my life [first] and succeed academically second,” she said. “It took taking on this project to make that happen.”

While she doesn’t have concrete plans for graduate school, she’s hoping to obtain an internship in the education department of a museum because she loves teaching others about why the classics still matter.

She believes relating them to the present day is crucial for their continuation.

“That’s how the department and discipline in general is going to survive in our culture and continue being a fruitful thing to study, if we start making it relevant to millennials.”

Erika Riley, Editor-in-Chief
Erika Riley is a junior majoring in creative writing and minoring in journalism. During her sophomore year, she worked as a news editor, and during her freshman year, she worked as a layout editor. She is the winner of the 2017 Ida M. Tarbell Prize for Investigative Reporting and the recipient of First Place Front Page Layout from the Illinois Press Association in 2016. Twitter: @ej_riley

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