When I think of my time at St. John’s College as an undergraduate, there are so many things to be grateful for—the academic program, the supportive community and the beautiful Santa Fe setting all come to mind. But I am most grateful for being a January Freshman.
To be a JF is already kind of a strange thing. It’s a small group of students that have decided to start the academic program in January and work through the summer to catch up with those that started in the fall. JFs are a unique collection of individuals: some are a little older, many have additional experiences with the world or with other colleges and universities, and a rare one or two are exceptionally young. When I arrived on that cold but sunny January day for JF Orientation, I expected nothing. After all, I came to St. John’s for the books—I thought I didn’t need to socialize with people. I looked around at my peers and I saw 21 people who couldn’t be more different from one another. We ranged in age from 16 to 31. We hailed from 4 different countries and, if I remember correctly, 15 different states. The first few days were a type of exploratory period as we all shared what we felt were the relevant bits about our stories that led us to St. John’s. I participated, rather minimally, but still didn’t see that it was important for me to become involved in the larger St. John’s Community.
Since the January Freshmen are alone in studying the beginnings of the Academic Program during the Spring Semester, they become fairly well insulated. We all had Seminar and Music classes together. The rest of the classes split us in half—I had Lab and Greek with one group of students and I had Math with another. You eat together, you study together, and you even socialize primarily with other JFs, at least at first. You get used to seeing these same people A LOT. And to be honest, when summer rolls around and there isn’t really anyone else on campus, so you are only seeing your fellow JFs, you start to get kind of sick of them. This insulation can be crazy-making at times, but it is also hugely beneficial. You work harder—the accelerated pace of the program means you have to—but you work better together. JFs become close to one another exceptionally quickly, meaning that there’s a trust built in the classroom that allows the conversations to become more focused and, as a result, students expose their own vulnerabilities more and in ways that genuinely added to the classroom experience.
So much of St. John’s is precious to me. That’s why I chose to work in the Admissions Office after graduation. But these people, these fellow JFs of mine, they are the ones who reached out with open arms first and indicated to me that I could, and should, make friends with my Johnnie peers. They taught me the importance of an active life outside of the classroom and how very unimportant differences like age or geography are. My conversations with these students in math and lab showed me that I could be good at the things I had always feared. The encouragement, both during and after Seminar, helped me find my voice. Those 20 young people became a huge part of shaping who I was and providing me with the tools to be successful during the rest of my time at St. John’s.
It has been nearly five years since I arrived on campus as an eager student. I have changed a great deal in that time. I learned, I spoke, I wrote, I cried, I laughed and I experienced much more of the world at the base of this mountain than I ever had in the 30 years before I came to St. John’s. During my JF year, I found an unlikely cohort who became a very dear friend. I worked on Greek translations with others and discovered a passion for languages that I didn’t know I had. Because of my classmates, I became confident in articulating my thoughts and ideas. I realized that it’s okay to admit to the world both that I’m an intelligent woman and that sometimes I don’t understand something. And there are twenty people, whose names I will never forget, that I will be forever grateful to for embarking on this journey with me.