A heartfelt hello from the parents of a sophomore at St. John’s College! We hope this finds each of you well, and safely ensconced where you want to be during our world’s present emergency.
We were recently asked to talk about what our daughter’s experience at the college so far has meant to our family.
We could tell tales! We have witnessed so many opportunities unfolding for her during her first year-and-a-half at the College.
It seems to us, simply, that she is where she belongs, happily finding her own way among a close community of fascinatingly diverse individuals working to do the same.
And working hard, of course! The ambitious learning project engaging each member of the St. John’s community calls in the first place for a good deal of earnest individual contemplation.
So what we have found especially impressive about St. John’s is how tutors (what St. John’s professors are called) and students alike, celebrating and supporting each other’s efforts, have made that project a common one. And in that regard, especially, all hail to the tutors! By example, they invite their students—our student!—to bring their individual ideas into a greater collaborative conversation. The tutors frankly expose their own energetic wrestling with their great predecessors’ thinking, openly aiming to enlarge their own understanding. They model attentive reading, critical reflection, judicious expression, and respectful listening.
At the same time, the process is rigorous. Students are called on to justify their views. The tutors deliberately stir the pot, inciting seminar participants to learn by experience how vigorous argument promotes insight when all concerned aim at the truth, not just to quash opposition—and the liveliness of conversation begun in seminar can be heard spilling over into discussions everywhere on campus.
But now? A sea change has washed over the world, and of course it has affected all social forms. Now our daughter is home, her college friends dispersed separately everywhere else. The lively seminar rooms and labs, the library’s quiet study commune, the omnium-gatherum coffee shop, the boisterous gym and athletic fields, the scattering of casual outdoor rendezvous places throughout the College’s beautiful surrounds? They’re all empty.
We have all been stunned. We all strain after safe refuge, comfort, hope.
But our family has also experienced something else. Throughout these turbulent weeks, we have watched our daughter continue to work on her sophomore enabling paper—in the process drawing both of us into her lively reading & rereading of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It”—while she also has found time to converse frequently via Zoom with one or another virtual gathering of far-flung College friends, exchange texts with her tutor advisor, and discuss with us the big consequences of the world-wide upheaval that we’re all trying to come to grips with.
In all, it has seemed to us, she has shown herself positively marked by her St. John’s experience. There, she has already been taking on big questions. Her thinking, her spirit have been emboldened and enlarged. And she yearns to get on with the work she has begun at St. John’s.
And St. John’s is already going on with her—relying for now on our present time’s extraordinary video conferencing capabilities, and as always, especially, relying on the tutors’ continuing dedication to inciting honest effort to better understand the full panoply of life—in the context of centuries of thought on the subject—and how practically to prepare to apply that understanding. For the time being, tutors and
students won’t be meeting all in the same room together, alas. But before now they did, and there they gathered a strong sense of what made those meetings work for them, in ways they fiercely care about. So when our daughter “attended” seminar last night online, she found herself in the thick of it all again.
The surprise that the COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted on us all has been colossally affecting. But for those within the St. John’s community, the ongoing surprise of getting to know each other and each other’s thinking—and oneself!—in the intimate intellectual hothouse of seminar and beyond, we are convinced, will be at least as lastingly affecting.
We shall return!
Our sincere best wishes,
Bob Loomis (SFGI06) and Hannah Loomis