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Diana Postlethwaite reflects on 30 years at St. Olaf


Attending St. Olaf means taking a wide breadth of classes outside your declared major. These classes can feel entirely irrelevant to some people. However, English professor Diana Postlethwaite believes there is a lot to learn and embrace at a liberal arts college where the focus is on teaching undergraduates. After teaching for 30 years at St. Olaf, Postlethwaite will retire at the end of the semester. She plans to read, write, craft and attend the plays and lectures on campus she had not had time for before.

Although Postlethwaite will remain in Northfield and occasionally stop by campus, she said she will miss the classroom interactions and students. 

“The nice thing about being an English professor is a lot of what you love – you can still keep reading and writing,” Postlethwaite said. “There are many things I won’t mind retiring from, but walking into a classroom and interacting with a bunch of students is the most fun thing in the universe … There is just something about that energy you get from sharing ideas back and forth that I just think is incredible and kind of irreplaceable.”

During her time at St. Olaf, Postlethwaite said her two favorite classes to teach were Monsters: Myths and Movies and Theater in London because she believes film can so heavily influence our culture and visual literacy is crucial in today’s media-saturated world. Starting in 1994, Postlethwaite and a group of her colleagues established the Media Studies department. Recently, St. Olaf hired its first tenure-track faculty member in Media Studies, Linda Mokdad, who has a PhD in film and oversees the Film Studies concentration. 

“[Film] is a visual art form. I think that one of my most rewarding accomplishments is having been able to support the study of film here and to see that continuing on strongly, hopefully now, into the twenty first century,” Postlethwaite said. “It’s a big thing, and film is, among other things, an entertainment, but it’s also a scholarly and academic field, an intellectual field, so it’s exciting to have an expert in that field teaching at our college now … I am very confident that film will continue to thrive around here.” 

Postlethwaite studied at Harvard and Yale only to return to her native Minnesota through serendipity when her husband landed a job at Carleton College. St. Olaf had also been hiring professors, and with perfect timing and good fortune, Postlethwaite was offered a position. She said she is fortunate to be at a great liberal arts institution with exciting students and professors.

“The gift of a liberal arts education is that it gives you ways of using your mind that whatever you are doing for your job or career – you can draw on that. And you can also draw on that for the pleasure of your personhood,” Postlethwaite said. She also had advice to pass on to St. Olaf’s English majors.

“If you have been an English major, there are always other great novels to read, you don’t have to be taking the English class to read it … It’s nice to get a great job and earn a big salary and all of that, but it’s sort of, to me, being able to really relish what you learned at St. Olaf isn’t dependent on that, and you got a gift that you get to take with you of enjoying thinking about things, and learning and reading and talking about stuff and expressing your ideas about things. I believe in that. I think that is a gift.”