Professor of the Year Rosemary Graham Takes Learning to New Heights

In 2017, Professor Rosemary Graham led her Jan Term class to Croagh Patrick in Ireland, the site of a historic pilgrimage.Professor of English and Creative Writing Rosemary Graham entered college thinking she was going to study government and politics. Then she took an American literature class that sparked a lifetime passion for the subject, which she shares with her students. Her passion for teaching and literature led to her being named Saint Mary’s Professor of the Year for 2020–2021.

Graham, who has taught at Saint Mary’s for more than 28 years, said she started teaching at a campus writing center while an undergraduate English major at Georgetown University. She worked under an inspiring professor who helped Graham find a part-time teaching job at Saint Agnes, a small private girls’ school in Alexandria, Va.

“The pay was so low that I kept my college waitressing job,” Graham said. She joked that for a while, she “was schoolmarm by day, barmaid by night.”

“It was exhausting but exhilarating. I loved the classroom. After two years at Saint Agnes, I left to pursue a PhD. I wanted to read more, and more deeply, and to teach college.”

As Graham began applying to jobs teaching 19th century American literature, Saint Mary’s appealed to her as a small liberal arts college. At Saint Mary’s, Graham said, “it’s all about relationships.” She loves that the College allows her “to meet students where they are.” She believes classes and the relationships formed within them hold particular importance, especially today.

Graham has taught a number of courses in five different programs at the College, “each of them rewarding in its own right.” She’s particularly passionate about the Jan Term course Ireland’s Terrible Beauty, which she co-taught with Father Tom McElligott. Graham has also published scholarly articles and three novels. Her current novel in progress is called Simple Lessons in Irish. The historical novel is set in the west of Ireland and the East Coast of America in the early 20th century.

Her writing has also been recognized with fellowships and residencies at Hedgebrook, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Jentel Foundation, and the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in County Monaghan, Ireland.

Graham is also very proud of the numerous student successes she’s inspired. Graham encouraged one of her former students, director of Black Panther Ryan Coogler, to pursue a career in film. Graham also noted, “Sometimes, it’s just about getting students across the finish line” of a semester, which she finds rewarding in itself.

“When I reminisce about my undergraduate experience at Saint Mary’s, Professor Graham’s English 5 class always comes to mind,” said Biochemistry senior Kaya Sanders. “Each time I left her class feeling so inspired and confident in myself as a student. Professor Graham is so compassionate, lively, and thoughtful. I am beyond grateful for all of her support and kindness.”

The Saint Mary’s community congratulates Professor Rosemary Graham and thanks her for her dedication to the College and its students.