Hayden Graves was selected as the recipient of the 2022 Chiara Maria Levin Award for Breadth and Excellence in the Romance Languages.
This prize honors a graduating major who excels in more than one Romance language. It was made possible by generous gifts from family and friends to honor the memory of Chiara Levin (B.A. French 2005), who passed away in 2007. It is intended as a tribute to her memory and passion for language learning.
Each year we ask the recipient of the Chiara Maria Levin Award to write a bit about themselves and the role that their language studies have played in their lives and how they hope to use that knowledge in the future.
"I started studying my first Romance language when I was 12 years old. My school district required 2 years of studying a foreign language in high school, with the option of completing it during middle school in order to free up time later during high school. So, in 7th grade I decided to take French. This decision was primarily influenced by the fact that my sister was taking French and I wanted to be able to ask her questions in the inevitable event that I needed help with my homework. But, by my second year of studying the language, it was clear that I didn’t need much help after all.
Language learning unwittingly became a strength of mine. I continued to study French for the rest of middle school and into high school for all four years. It remained my muse in a sense, but wasn’t the only language that captured my attention. During my sophomore year, I latched onto my growing curiosity for Brazilian Portuguese, which was partially influenced by the former travel duo Damon & Joe and my growing appreciation for Bossa Nova and Samba. While I continued with French at school, I focused on Brazilian Portuguese at home.
For the next two years of high school, these two languages kept me busy as I dove deeper into their respective cultures. I even ventured outside of my metropolitan France-focused education and studied the intricacies of Québécois. It was here that I realized my interest in language was based in the intricacies of identity and how strongly tied it can be to not only what we speak, but the way in which we do so. Accents and dialects are what tie us together or split us apart.
For myself, having always been self conscious of the way I sounded when I spoke, I embraced the newfound freedom of choosing how I could sound in the languages I was learning. Having listened to a lot of foreign music, I made sure to learn not only the lyrics, but also the correct articulations in order to perfect my accents. This was by-far my favorite study tactic and remains my leading strategy when I pick up a new language.
After high school, my decision to major in Romance Languages came about when I was searching for colleges. I focused primarily on schools with strong language programs that included opportunities to study abroad. Having applied to a few stateside school and a few abroad, I ended up at Michigan because of its simultaneous distance and proximity to my hometown, Traverse City, MI. At Michigan I embraced its language community, entering the Residential College and continuing my French studies in their intensive immersion program. By the second semester of my first year, I started focusing on studying Spanish as my second language for the major.
Throughout sophomore year, I took classes in English, French, Portuguese and Spanish. Although my plans to study abroad in Spain and Italy during the summer following sophomore year fell through, I decided to take online Spanish classes over the summer in order to stay on track with the major. At this time I found a new focus as well, Italian! Throughout my junior and senior years, I focused on my three primary langauges of French, Spanish, and Italian, taking classes in all three. As electives, I ventured into the Germanic family and took Dutch and German as well!
Now at the end of my college career, I realize how important language learning has been in helping me learn not only just about other people, by also myself. Having paired Romance Languages major with the International Studies major, I was able to dive deeper into cross-cultural studies and study the intricacies of international diplomacy and politics. With my minor in Translation Studies, I was able to work closely with Giulia Riccò to perform translations from Italian and Portuguese into English for a few of her projects.
As I leave U of M, I look forward to the final step of my journey with language learning: immersion. I look forward to moving to the northern region of France, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, this fall to be an English teaching assistant through the Teaching Assistant Program in France (TAPIF). Next year, I hope to spend time in Italy in the summer and then move to Spain in fall to participate in their teaching assistant program (NALCAP). After that, I don’t know where I’ll end up, but one thing is for sure: thanks to studying Romance languages, I’ve got plenty of options!"