Class of 2011: Isabella Pilato

Isabella Pilato is an eloquent advocate of a liberal arts education.

As the University counts down to Commencement, UConn Today is featuring some of this year’s outstanding graduating students, nominated by their academic school or college or another University program in which they participated. For additional profiles of students in the Class of 2011, click here.

<p>Isabella Pilato. Photo by Jessica Tommaselli</p>
Isabella Pilato, CLAS ’11. Photo by Jessica Tommaselli, CLAS ’11

Isabella Pilato speaks thoughtfully and with perfect diction. She is eloquent when she defends the importance of a liberal arts education. And when she talks about her love of music, or the role that home schooling played in preparing her for college, or living off campus with her sister – a UConn sophomore majoring in music history – she does so with an easy, self-deprecating sense of humor.

Pilato, a native of New London, has a double major in Classics & Ancient Mediterranean Studies and English in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. A University Scholar, her focus is on the influence of classical rhetoric on the poetry of Chaucer and Milton.

“My interest in rhetoric came from the classes that I took in high school,” she says, “basically because I was taught that classical rhetoric is still useful in the teaching of writing. Around that time I became interested in the influence of classicism on English literature.”

Her major advisor Jonathan Hufstader, associate professor of English and director of Honors English, says, “If genius’ means a person with a remarkable indwelling spirit, then Isabella is a genius. She came to UConn with a clear and steady vision of what she wanted to accomplish, and she has pursued these goals relentlessly and with ever-widening circles of interest over the last four years.”

When Pilato spoke at this year’s Scholar’s Day, she offered an impassioned justification for a liberal arts education: “A university education does more than equip us for successful careers. An exact correlation between education and career is not the point. The goal is more profound, more encompassing. Through education we realize our potential as individual minds; we learn to be the best thinkers that we can be.”

Reflecting on her time at UConn, she comments, “I didn’t come here to study literature for a brilliant career. I came to [study] literature because I love it. I feel that all the reading I’ve done in my major has been reading for pleasure.”

Pilato, who will graduate May 8, says, “They always talk about commencement being the beginning … that’s what the word means, and I’m really encouraged at this point to look back on my four years at UConn as having given me the tools for what I’d like to do in the future.”

Next year, she will embark on a master’s degree in medieval studies at UConn. And after that, she may earn a Ph.D., or perhaps teach at the secondary level.

Or she may take another direction.

“What I really want to do is write novels,” she says. “There was a time when I thought that all good literature had ceased being written and that if you were interested in something like Keats, then you were in it by yourself because no one was ever going to buy it. But now I think that there is a way to successfully integrate with a modern audience what a scholarly, historical-minded person [like me] would want to write.”