Daniel Joseph Mattes
Undergraduate Major in Italian
I sometimes find it surprising how long it took me to decide to major in Italian. I arrived at Stanford with two distinct goals: 1. To study something useful in today’s globalized context, and 2. To avoid Mathematics at all costs. Thankfully, I found the latter goal quite achievable, and I soon turned to International Relations for the former. Midway through six months of study abroad in Italy, however, I found myself gazing at the Adriatic horizon from my train window as I traveled to Pescara to meet my relatives for Christmas in the small Abruzzese hilltown of my grandmother’s birth. A sudden sense of fulfillment brought with it a frank realization of doubt concerning my academic pursuits and teleological purpose.
In addition to an assured sense of independence that I had gained through my time learning and traveling abroad, I came to understand the profound impact of Italian on my intellectual development, and thus chose to pursue the double major. I arrived at this university eager to study Italian for the sake of connecting with my relatives, after many visits spent watching only my mother converse with them. Yet I leave Stanford today with a complex understanding of Italy’s language and literature, as well as a deep interest in its outsized role, in terms of its contributions to the world’s arts and sciences.
This shift in attention towards the Humanities satiated an innate need, which I soon realized had gone unfulfilled during my first two years at Stanford. What started as familial interest soon developed into an intensely personal desire to feed my mind with the works of Italian authors and artists. In Dante, I have found conclusions to my own existential crises; in Boccaccio, an early sign of indescribable modernism; in Saba, impassioned nostalgia; in Pasolini, a rebellious soul; in Fellini, the truth as circus; in Moravia, frank awareness of life’s most unfortunate obstacles; in Calvino, the imaginative spirit that encourages us to question and endure.
I depart from Stanford, not only with the world-changing tools I have gained from International Relations, but also a keen awareness of the thinkers, artists, philosophers, and writers who have come before me. And I now appreciate the literary and philosophical thinking that empowers action. Such a realization has come as a slowly evolving surprise to me, but not as a complete shock, for the role of the humanities— especially those foreign to our native tongues—cannot be understated. I want to recognize the Italian depart- ment for adding such complexity to my development, and I’d specifically like to thank Serena Ferrando, Ermelinda Campani, Marta Baldocchi, and, of course, my family for providing me with such a deeply impactful experience.