Blog Article

“The Odyssey Project is what school was supposed to be”

On Saturday, May 13, Illinois Humanities was thrilled to celebrate the graduation of the 22nd class of Odyssey Project/Proyecto Odisea students. Nearly 50 graduates walked across the stage at the ceremony, generously hosted by the National Museum of Mexican Art, while more than a hundred family members, friends, Odyssey instructors and staff, and Illinois Humanities staff cheered them on.

As the Director of Teaching & Learning and program lead for the Odyssey Project/Proyecto Odisea, I always find graduation to be the ultimate affirmation of what student-centered, community-based humanities education can offer learners who may not always see “school” as a welcoming place.

2023 Odyssey Project graduate speaking on stage
Graduate speaker Doodle May Jenkins representing the first-year South Side course

First-Year graduate, Doodle May Jenkins, said it best in her graduation day speech: “The Odyssey Project wasn’t school and I refuse to believe anything else. School is mandatory, school is a tool of control, school told me that my creativity didn’t matter… I slowly came to the realization that the Odyssey Project is what school was supposed to be.”

Student after student shared these and similar sentiments on graduation day. They spoke of instructors who “love their jobs,” site coordinators and teaching assistants who helped make learning together feel “safe” and support a “sense of belonging,” and fellow students who became “like family.”

Our current students and graduates express better than anyone what the secret ingredients of Odyssey/Odisea are: time, care, patience, kindness, compassion, and authenticity. They will tell you that studying the humanities – history, literature, philosophy, and art history, among other subjects — demands that you sit in contemplation, both in solitude and community. They will remind us that people can have very different life experiences and opinions, but that reading and discussing together and sprinkling in those secret ingredients of patience and compassion can take us all to a place of greater understanding. And I believe they will insist that learning and changing your mind (or refining it) are necessary parts of being human.

I hope you will join me in congratulating the Odyssey Project/Proyecto Odisea Class of 2023 and share my joy in seeing these brilliant scholars shine on their special day.

View the complete photo album

*All graduation photos by GlitterGuts Photobooth.

Continue Your Story

The Odyssey Project/Proyecto Odisea is now accepting applications to join the class of 2024. Earn up to 11 college credits for free! Classes begin in August 2023. Learn more and apply by June 15 at

About Illinois Humanities

Illinois Humanities, the Illinois affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, is a statewide nonprofit organization that activates the humanities through free public programs, grants, and educational opportunities that foster reflection, spark conversation, build community and strengthen civic engagement. We provide free, high-quality humanities experiences throughout Illinois, particularly for communities of color, individuals living on low incomes, counties and towns in rural areas, small arts and cultural organizations, and communities highly impacted by mass incarceration. Founded in 1974, Illinois Humanities is supported by state, federal, and private funds.

Learn more at and on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn @ILHumanities.


Featured image:

South Side first-year course graduates and faculty pose in front of the memorial for fellow graduate Carla Denise Padgett, who passed away in spring 2023. [L-R: Christophe Ringer, Edgar Astorga, Stephanie Banks, Lori K. Bibbs, Taylor Samone Padgett (Carla’s daughter), Nikia Prince, Allison Muscolino, Doodle May Jenkins, and Bianca Perez] Photo by GlitterGuts Photobooth.