Kwaku Sarpong ’22 — This semester, I had the incredible opportunity to study abroad in Strasbourg, France. While there, I enrolled in a Renaissance art and architecture course at the University of Strasbourg, and thanks to the Givens Scholarship, I was able to visit Renaissance architectural sites in Italy and Spain. While all of these sites were incredible in their own right, there were two places that left a deep impression on me: the city of Florence and St. Peter’s Basilica.
Upon arriving in Florence, I headed straight to nearby restaurant that a friend had suggested to me, where I enjoyed my first authentic Italian spaghetti. After that, I went into the city center to see the sites as I had planned, and I was taken aback by what I discovered. Entering Florence was like taking a leap back in time – I was surrounded not only by Renaissance culture, but by styles of art, architecture, and even urban design of all different ages. My initial surprise slowly turned into admiration as I stood in awe at the Santa Maria Novella, which when basked in sunlight had an almost relaxed, summer villa atmosphere in addition to its beauty. As I turned and strolled through the old cobblestone streets, I passed small shops and cafes and other buildings which seemed as if they had been there for ages. Eventually, I came up on the Basilica di San Lorenzo and the Florence cathedral, both of which were truly, grand majestic works. The cathedral, in particular however, was truly incredible because of the amazingness of its intricate design which when combined with its grandeur and sheer size made it one of the most impressive works of art I have ever seen in my life. As the sun began to set, I visited the Palazzo Vecchio, where I was able to admire the longevity of this ancient site of civil power. At each turn, for each new site I visited, I would discover a road, a restaurant, a café, whose unique classic style added even more to the charm of the city. I reached the Palazzo Pitti in the evening, by which time a deep fog had set in. The old brick palace loomed over the fog in the darkness, as almost a testament to the power that it once possessed. After seeing these works, I turned around to catch my train. To this moment, I am not sure which route I took or why I had not seen this before, but I found myself in a truly modern part of the city, bustling and packed with people. I walked past a live jazz and swing music performance that I greatly enjoyed and then accidentally wandered into a modern high-end shopping district filled with luxury goods that I was glad to admire even if I had no plans to buy them. As I left the district, I began to hear wafts of what sounded like traditional Indian music. Suddenly, I came upon a small group of traditionally dressed Hare Krishna followers, who were waving flags, singing, dancing, and playing music through the streets of Florence. This incredible contrast of modern life with the ancient city I had just experienced was a great way to finish what had been an amazing trip to the city of Florence.
While Florence captivated me with its own charm, my trip to St. Peter’s Basilica also left its own unique impression on me. Thanks to the scholarship, I was able to stay in Rome for two days, so I was able to see the Basilica both at night and in the morning, which was truly special. At night, I was impressed by the Basilica’s beauty – its lights combined with the artistic design of St. Peter’s square leave their mark on the night Vatican landscape. In the morning, upon seeing the Basilica and the square in much greater detail, I became more philosophical, reflecting on the thousands of years of history and culture that had passed through this ancient building. I had the opportunity to go St. Peter’s Dome, where I had been told that I could get a good view of Rome. To reach the Dome one can either take a combination of the elevator and the stairs, or just take the stairs. For the sake of the experience, I decided to take all 551 steps to the top. That was an unforgettable experience. The Vatican stairs are very, very old, meaning they were not constructed with as much attention to safety and comfort as our stairs are today. At different sections of the stairwell, I faced different challenges. Some sets of the stairs were incredibly steep, in others the passageway was too small, at other times the roof quite low. Sometimes the stairs just looked weird. I remember that after about 300 steps, there was a slight break where one can view the dome from below and then continue to the top. After getting back on the stairs, I recall thinking to myself “There’s 200 more?” But eventually, I reached the Dome, and almost instantly, I knew it was worth the effort. I could look out and see the city of Rome for miles out. As a fan of history who particularly enjoys learning about the Roman empire, it was surreal to see that great and ancient city spread out in all its grandeur for the first time.
My trips in Europe were truly lifechanging experiences, but they would not have been possible without the Givens Scholarship. I am very, very thankful to the Givens family for the opportunity they have given me and other Wabash men to study art and see the world in ways that I could never have imagined. Thanks to this scholarship, I have grown considerably as both a student and a man. I am sincerely grateful for all that the Givens family has and continues to do, and I wish the best to all Wabash students who come after me.