Northwestern Magazine
Senior Watch
More Photos:
Ellen Cantrell

Walking Words

For two months last summer, creative writing major Ellen Cantrell trekked, on foot, nearly 250 miles — from León to Santiago de Compostela and then on to Cape Finisterre — on El Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James. She used the journey along the path, which starts in France and stretches 488 miles across northern Spain, as inspiration for an 18-page poem.

“I’ve been thinking about, reading about, experiencing and writing about the pilgrimage for a year,” says Cantrell, who finished the poem at the end of winter quarter. “It’s pretty incredible.”

Other writings about the pilgrimage center on individual experience, but Cantrell wanted to focus on the communal aspects of the journey. During her walk she copied down notes that other travelers left behind. Many pilgrims, she sensed, wanted to share their intense once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Throughout her walk, Cantrell found the Spanish phrase todo se cumple written repeatedly on trees, stones and way markers. The message, which means “everything is fulfilled,” inspired her when she felt exhausted and overwhelmed by the journey.

Cantrell, who hails from Austin, Texas, hopes to one day complete the entire pilgrimage.

Among her other adventures, Cantrell has gone on service trips to Russia and Guatemala with Northwestern’s University Christian Ministry. Over spring break she went to Guatemala for the second time, and now she’s probing opportunities to teach there or to work at a school in India after graduation.

She scored a recent interview with Chicago’s Interfaith Youth Core and wants to earn her master’s in education. With the poem and ongoing job search, Cantrell admits her friends call her “too busy.”

But Cantrell works for other people’s benefit. For several years, she has been part of a partnership between UCM and the University’s Rainbow Alliance to heal the “wounds of prejudice” between the Christian and the gay communities. Cantrell’s best friend tells her that people feel comfortable letting their guard down around her, “which I hope is true,” she says.

— Christopher Danzig (J08)

Photo by Andrew Campbell