Graeme Bird (2011)

Associate Professor of Linguistics and Classics

The Junior Distinguished Faculty Award is given each year to an assistant or associate professor.

Before making the presentation, let me digress.  As many of you know, I enjoy the movies, so it will probably come as no surprise that I have been working on a screenplay—with characters based on people I know at Gordon.  It’s a mystery and an adventure story, a cross between Raiders of the Lost Ark and National Treasure, with a little dose of Casablanca thrown in. 

As the story begins, we are in a frantic city trying to find our detective, who is quiet, self-effacing, and perhaps a little mysterious.  We enter this bar—no, make that a church, since we know that our detective has a theology degree from London.  A small crowd mingles at the back of the sanctuary, while a few visitors sit pensively in pews, listening to the piano player practicing hymns.  Just as we begin to doubt that our contact will be found among this crowd, the pianist suddenly gives the hymn a jazz cadence.  That gives us pause:  our detective, we have heard, once earned a jazz piano degree from the Berklee School of Music.  When we ask him to step into a back room with us for questions, he smiles and quietly obliges, graciously translating for us the Latin words carved in the wooden pulpit as we leave.

That convinces us that he is, indeed, the accomplished linguist we have been looking for.  When pressed, he admits that his day job has been as the principal architect of a linguistics major and a classics minor.  Soon he also owns up to the fact that he did write that recent book for Harvard University Press about the early manuscripts of the Iliad.  In fact, for a few minutes, he tells us how those papyri manuscripts reveal that Homer’s great epic poem was often adapted by each teller of the tale, not unlike the improvisations of jazz.  

Has he done undercover work before, we ask?  Yes, he concedes, he is currently on the Core Committee.  When he acknowledges that he once also taught computer science we know we have the mind that can crack our case.

This adventure will take us around the world, from the small gigs that he plays with his vocal band to the shores of the South Pacific.  But as the plot proceeds we will discover that the case is solved not simply because of his intellectual scope but also due to his good nature and trustworthiness.  Actually, we can’t even begin our quest until he fulfills his commitment to complete 27 independent studies with his students.  Despite tutoring the most advanced Latin students, he has given long hours to assist those needing special academic support.   “When you are in his presence,” one student claims, “everyone is involved, engaged and appreciated.”  

Our story will close with a riddle decoded and justice done, and we will linger in a cottage overlooking a fjord in New Zealand, even as our detective resumes his place at the piano. “That hymn,” someone states, “that jazzy hymn we first heard from you.  Play it again, Graeme.”

I can’t promise that my script will be any good, but I am so convinced that the leading man will be a star that, in addition to giving the Junior Distinguished Faculty Award, I might as well go ahead and give the Oscar to Associate Professor of Linguistics and Classics Dr. Graeme Bird.

Graeme Bird