Remembering a class MVP

Diane lying in a hospital bed wearing a respirator, and holding her Odyssey graduate diploma

Students in the Odyssey Class of 2021 called one classmate their MVP, hero, warrior-scholar and inspiration.

Lifelong learner Diane Walton logged on from the hospital to read scenes from A Raisin in the Sun, even with an oxygen tube and beeping monitors. She watched her virtual Odyssey graduation ceremony from hospice care, losing her battle with Stage 4 lung cancer one week later. As a way of remembering Diane’s extraordinary persistence in the face of adversity, Odyssey Project staff started a prize in her name to be awarded annually to an Odyssey student demonstrating exceptional resiliency. You can support this annual prize by donating below.

Class of 2021 graduate Diane Walton loved Odyssey classes and did everything in her power to continue learning, even when faced with an unexpected terminal illness during Odyssey’s second semester. Pausing for breaths, Diane dictated poems to Odyssey Codirector Emily Auerbach over the phone, including “I Am Clouds”:

I am clouds in the sky at night time.
The different shapes are signs of how I’m feeling.
Sometimes you can see through my body to the soft, fluffy, airy clouds of my moods.
Sometimes I allow the beautiful blue or orange sky from the moon at night to express myself.
I move with quiet soft silence through my thoughts, troubles, and happiness.
Sometimes I allow others to see my smile with the crest of the moon.

She also dictated “Song of Diane,” inspired by her reading of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” and Langston Hughes’s “Weary Blues”:

I am Diane.
I am the slow jazz horn of the saxophone
Playing moody blues and rhythmic jazz tunes
I feel your smile as I express my sounds and
Enjoy the pleasure of your celebrations of our harmony.
May we always feel the togetherness and joy of our beautiful sounds.

When Diane watched her Zoom graduation ceremony, her friends say she perked up more than she had in weeks, telling them to quiet down. She clapped for her classmates as each delivered a creative reading. She treasured the UW Odyssey Project certificate, yearbook, newsletters, flowers and other gifts delivered to her in her final weeks.

At Diane’s memorial service, friends and family members displayed copies of the Odyssey Oracles featuring Diane’s work, read “Song of Diane” as part of the funeral service and gave attendees a bookmark printed with her “I am Clouds” poem.

Odyssey will recognize Diane’s persistence every year with a resiliency award in her name through the Friends of Odyssey Family Fund.