The Toughest Question

As representatives of St. John’s College, my colleagues and I are asked questions like “What do you think is the best thing about St. John’s?” time and again.  It’s a question that I struggle to answer because I think it’s difficult to pick just one thing when so many things make St. John’s exceptional.  Our recent Admitted Students’ events and all of the questions our guests were asking have made me revisit the toughest question I get asked.

I should start by saying that there is no denying that an education from St. John’s is extraordinary.  Not only are we studying incredibly important works across a variety of disciplines, but we are doing it in a way that furthers our understanding of the material far beyond your typical college lecture.  In the few years since graduation, I’ve had a conversation with a commercial airline pilot about aerodynamics.  I’ve studied the night skies alongside a naval officer in Australia.  I’ve had a healthy debate about constitutional law and discussed the finer points of the evolution of government with a Stanford professor.  I look around at my friends who have received degrees in everything from Public Relations, Business and Poetry to advanced degrees in Clinical Psychology, Advanced Mathematics and Law and find that my knowledge base is far broader than theirs.  In fact, most of my non-Johnnie friends will be the first to tell you that the education I received was more rigorous and academic than theirs, regardless of what school they attended.  But as much as it is easy to see the outstanding academic preparation that St. John’s grants us, it never hurts to see it come to life after graduation.

I think it’s also easy to see the benefits that a small community like St. John’s has to offer.  Personal attention happens more naturally at every level—Admissions, Financial Aid, Student Services, Residential Life and, most pervasively, in the classroom—when your population is smaller.  It is my belief that this close-knit environment is what leads to the type of community that fosters deep thinking and personal growth alongside academic achievement.  For our students to find other young people who share their passion for learning and questions, who are concerned with growing as a person, and who are, above all else, courageous and adventurous enough to explore the unknown, is a huge part of what makes this education and this place life-changing.  The best way I can find to describe it is to think about the difference between climbing a mountain alone and climbing it with a group of people.  It will be hard, and one is capable of success either way.  However, if you go into it with a group of like-minded individuals who are also dedicated to the task, it will become an experience that is far more than just the act of reaching the summit.

Seeing our admitted students come together and instantly connect with one another was wonderful.  It was a chance to both see how excited these young people are about this education, but also to reflect on all of the things that made me fall in love with St. John’s in the first place.  Obviously the curriculum and our pedagogy are a big part of that, but in the end, it is undeniably the people and the community that not only offer support, but begin to change who you are fundamentally as a person.  Every college graduate should be able to say that they are leaving school more knowledgeable than they were when they arrived.  I am truly proud to say that graduating from St. John’s has not only made me more willing and excited to continue learning new things, but also changed who I am as a human being at my deepest levels.  I knew I would take away wonderful relationships with Euclid, Aristotle, Newton, Hume, Woolf and so many more, but I would never have imagined the deep friendships and unwavering love and support that I found within the St. John’s community.

To this alumna, it is the people—the authors, the faculty, the staff and especially the students—that are the very best thing about St. John’s College.

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