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Saint Mary’s professor graduates with class of 2016

| Friday, May 13, 2016

After teaching for 29 years and taking classes for 12 years — one course every fall and spring semester, in addition to one summer course — Patti Sayre, professor of philosophy, achieved a 4.0 GPA and will receive a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree during the 2016 Commencement ceremony.

“I got my Ph.D. the last year that [Fr.] Hesburgh was president at Notre Dame,” Sayre said. “I rather like the idea that I’m getting my BFA in Carol Mooney’s last year.”

Sayre said her passion for art began at a young age.

“People would ask me if I wanted to be an artist when I was in third grade,” Sayre said, “I got this idea I would be an artist.”

However, in her junior year of high school, philosophy pulled her in another direction, she said. 

“My art didn’t seem to be going anywhere at that time,” she said, “I switched my sense of where I was going to be.”

After earning her undergraduate degree from Wheaton College in Illinois and her Ph.D. from Notre Dame, Sayre decided to pursue a career at Saint Mary’s.

Sayre said Saint Mary’s was, by far, the best fit for her.

“I’m not sure every women’s college is like this one,” she said. “I think this one has got something that others don’t.”

Years after she began teaching, one of Sayre’s colleagues took Drawing I and inspired her to do the same, she said. 

“I thought that’s really wonderful,” she said. “If you work at Saint Mary’s at any capacity, you can take one course for free each semester.”

“I was just going to take that one course, but then it was so good, I thought I would take Drawing II as well,” she said. “I just decided I’m really enjoying this, and I’ll just keep going.”

According to Sayre, art majors must undergo reviews at the end of each semester where they present their work to faculty for critiquing. However, students taking an art class who are not majoring in art do not have to go through the review.

“I thought, ‘Of course I’m not going to do this,’” she said, “And then I thought, ‘Well, what if I decided I did want to get a degree?’ So the night before, I decided, I’m going to do something.

Sayre said the reviews provide purpose for the classes.

“It just makes what you’re doing seem more real,” she said. “Like it’s not just going to end up in a closet — it’s going to hang on the wall, even if it is only for 24 hours.”

The review was an “intimidating” process, she said.

“I would almost always have a crisis right before the reviews where I felt I couldn’t do it,” she said. “A lot of the art students had more experience when they arrived at Saint Mary’s.”

According to Sayre, she could not have earned her degree without the aid of other students and faculty.

“They held my hand a lot more than other people’s hands,” she said. “They were looking after me when I was on a point of collapse, because I had just never done this before. … Given where I knew I was when I started and given where I am now, it really does seem like [the program] works. It turns you into someone who has an actual artistic style, focus and goals.”

Despite the challenge of the review process, Sayre said her greatest challenge was sleeping.

“I’ve had semesters where I’ve gone on two hours a night for several months running,” she said. “But those semesters were sometimes the most exciting semesters — they really helped to keep me sane.”

She said the transformation was easier for her to see due to the extended period of time she was taking classes.

“Everyone else has to have this magical transformation happen in four years,” she said. “I don’t know if while it’s happening they’re quite aware of it, but I’ve seen it happen in others.”

Although Sayre is graduating with a 4.0 GPA, she was not offered the status of valedictorian due to a rule that states students must have taken a certain number of credits at Saint Mary’s to be considered for the position.

“I transferred in so much from graduate school and my first undergraduate degree, I believe I was just short,” she said. “Besides, I think it’s more important that the valedictorian speech come from someone who is not in this weird position I’m in.”

Even without the valedictorian status, Sayre said she is proud of her accomplishment.

“I tell my students all the time that grades don’t matter, but I’m still a little bit proud of it.” she said. “I got more out of myself than I thought was in there. It represents how I pushed myself.”

As of now, Sayre does not think she will pursue a career in art, but would like to continue with her work and hopes to eventually have it showcased.

“I want very badly to keep going somehow, but I’m not going to jump ship here and try and go start a new career at this point,” she said. “I like the idea that my art is being seen rather than just having it sit in the closet.”

According to Sayre, she would like to be considered a portrait artist, and has two favorite types of portraiture — paintings of the ground and portraits of homeless people.

“I think [paintings of the ground are] kind of a portrait of a place,” she said. “The faces [of homeless people] on the street are so beautiful. There’s life written on their faces. The idea was by painting it, then people could see the beautiful face that normally they’re just ignoring.”

Sayre is done with her days of taking Saint Mary’s classes for credit, she said. However, she still thinks she will sit in on classes both in and out of the art department.

“I’m going to miss being a student alongside students,” she said. “I liked feeling that camaraderie and feeling that I was one of the students and not just a faculty member.”

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