Sara Lee and the world of words

What is art these days? If one was to ask any Southern Oregon University senior what their art is this week, they would say graduation. But in that, especially for graduating senior Sara Lynn Lee, the art is the sum of the parts.

Many people, when encountering the concept of words or syntax as art, demand a certain order, a poetic form, the cut of a proper jib. For Lee, however, it is the nature of the words themselves that are art. Earning her degree in Foreign Languages and Literatures, and minoring in Geography, the study of the languages and cultures of Mexican, Spanish and South American peoples, has been a long standing passion of Lee's. For Lee, art isn't simply a term assigned to a painting or a sculpture. It is a study of life itself, which takes many forms, forms many cultures and cultures many minds.

"Foreign language is an art because art is a form of communication," said Lee. "While many forms of art don't use words as a means to communicate or express an emotion, language is an art that not only uses speech but written words to express those emotions."

Taking it further, for Lee rhetoric is the wellspring construct creating the fabric foundation upon which all other known concepts are built upon. Lee is fascinated by how the differences in the developments of these concepts and structures help shape entirely unique societies, traditions and histories and any more focused art that may follow suit.

Lee has chosen to dedicate her life to a better understanding and merging of these passions. Through the years, Lee has studied many languages, is semi-fluent in French and Quechua, and has dedicated herself to Spanish for 14 years now.

Lee, a native of the Dalles, started studying Spanish at 13.

"I wanted to learn to communicate with a culture that was so prevalent," she said.

Eight years later Lee would be called by her church to serve a mission in South America, leading to an 18-month immersion in Ecuador, working with both the U.S and Ecuadorian armies and dentist work, as well as door to door missionary work, where Spanish became essentially her main language, and her means of expressing her faith to others. It was her first experience with living in a foreign country and live translation, through speeches, hymns, films and text and she decided that it was something she wanted to do for the rest of her life.

"The people in Ecuador experience a whole different world than the people in the United States," said Lee.

Why did Lee find some much value in a place where others vacation?

"I found people more receptive about speaking about their emotions. More willing to talk about their faith, more willing to make connections between the metaphysical and their day to day life," said Lee. "Instead of repeating lofty rhetoric, they demonstrated new ways I'd never thought of to live according to their beliefs." This ignited a passion in Lee to explore these cultures, the words their perceptions were based upon, their art and their soul.

Immediately upon returning, and enrolling in SOU, Lee began practicing her passion in a variety of ways. Lee is enthralled by the symbiosis of translation: "Poetry is an art. Translation is an extension of poetry."

Her capstone project focused on seeing film and theatre as a further means of translation from foreign literature. To do this, Lee has studied to translate the meanings behind Spanish words transcendent of the ordered words themselves, a dilemma many have when encountering their own language. In a sense, and philosophically debatable, Lee is mastering translating poetry into something literal in English and then re-imagining it back into poetic form, then adding visual or theatrical elements, breaking stanzas into dialogue and exploring these cultural and emotional mores before an audience who would otherwise not have such exposure.

Another facet for Lee has been to teach immigrants to speak English, and sometimes write Spanish, with the Northwest Seasonal Workers Association.

"I met the volunteer coordinator while they were tabling at SOU," said Lee. "I wound up teaching an English class. The first thing that came to mind was that volunteering"&

166; would look great on my resume'. A year and several months later I have learned more than I have taught." The questions the students asked Lee about context and nuance have made her obtain a better appreciation for the English language as well as the Spanish language.

"One exercise I did with the class was having them translate a love letter written in the 1920s by one of their ancestors from English to Spanish," said Lee. "In doing that exercise, the students and I all gained incite into the emotions being expressed, and how that emotion could be conveyed in another language as well."

Now, on the precipice of graduation, Lee looks forward to entering a world of words. Set on pursuing a Master's degree, she hopes to teach bilingually and serve as a translator, either of the written word or in person. While many graduates this weekend are set upon finding themselves in this world, for Sara Lee the meaning behind the diploma is the chance to find this world within herself.

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