University Honors Program
phone: (208) 885-6147
Idaho Commons 315
University of Idaho
875 Perimeter Drive MS 2533
Moscow, ID 83844-2533

James Banks

Paradise Regained: One Student’s Epic Climb from Academic Probation to a Cumulative 4.0 GPA, and how John Milton Gives Him a Leg Up

Nov. 20, 2008 [copy of UI press release about UHP senior, former member of the Honors Student Advisory Board, and UHP Certificate Recipent, James Banks]

Written by Donna Emert

MOSCOW, Idaho – University of Idaho English major James Banks readily confesses that he was not fully engaged in the final year of his high school education. In fact, he dropped out in his senior year, opting to earn a GED.

Banks, from Moscow, has bounced back nicely. He tested into the university’s Honors Program, became a member of its board and then editor of its newsletter – which he took to an on-line format. To round out his education, he served as a chemistry tutor and a statistics tutor. Banks graduates Dec. 13, with honors and a 4.0 cumulative grade point average.

With that kind of energy and candle power, he clearly could have chosen any major, but Banks is a hard bitten bibliophile with an affinity for Elizabethan Era (1558-1603) poetry, and a strong grasp of literature’s enduring relevance.

“On a practical basis, a humanities education is an asset because I eventually want to teach English literature,” said Banks. “To speak more broadly, I think it really helps us realize our humanity, through studying the humanities – all the best that has been written, as some would say. It gives us a sense of past traditions and culture. It really allows us to realize who we are, and why we believe what we do.”

One of Banks’ most recent essays offers analysis of John Milton’s preference for his later work, “Paradise Regained,” over the much more acclaimed prequel, “Paradise Lost.” The essay also explores “what precisely this reveals about the themes of both works.”

Writing literary criticism is a big part of a humanities education. Taking apart texts to see how they work, how they reflect their own time and culture, and how they shed light on current culture builds some pretty good analytical muscle. Banks is readying to put that to work on a master’s degree in English.

He has started shopping for graduate schools, writing statements of academic purpose. While he envisions a career as a professor, he also feels prepared to pursue work as a science writer or a communications specialist in just about any field. To keep his options open, he recently took a law school entrance exam.

“In the profession of law, you don’t only read texts, you read commentaries on the text,” Banks noted. “Really what judges are, in a sense, are literary critics who wield a great deal of influence in our lives. Though I will say in English, the texts are much more entertaining than those that judges have to read.”

Banks’ humanities-based education has very much shaped how he sees the world and his place in it. It also has allowed him to develop exceptional communications skills, which, he points out, are in great demand across the job market.

Reading and analyzing Elizabethan poetry also has helped him hone an increasingly rare and valuable skill: listening.

“Milton obviously is very easy to dismiss as antiquated,” said Banks. “But he still is writing very much about the context in which he lived, and in which we live. Just as Satan builds a bridge from Hell to Earth in “Paradise Lost,” Milton builds a bridge from the ancient world to the modern world. One of the things I’ve discovered is just how important these texts are to my life. I discovered that these people are speaking to me.”