Why the World Needs St. John’s College (Part II)


In my last post, I said that we could make our case for the value of a St. John’s education (1) by stating clearly our purposes and our means of achieving them; (2) by telling the stories of alumni who are thriving in the world while practicing the same intellectual and practical virtues required of them as students; and (3) by describing how they came to thrive precisely because of their St. John’s education. At that time, I tried to express succinctly our purposes and means. In this post, I’d like to take up the second part of the task by introducing you to some alumni who are flourishing in the world in the most extraordinary range of occupations.


Our alumni make it easy to imagine how a St. John’s education prepares one for a fulfilling career. Listen to Stephen Forman, an alumnus who delivered the commencement address in Santa Fe in 2009:

When we meet with prospective students in Los Angeles, and I am asked, mostly by both students and their parents, what a student can do after this kind of education, you all now know the answer to that question: anything! If it is knowable, then it can be learned. . . .

So some may ask what you have achieved, what is the meaning of your degree—without specialty, without major, without job training? And to those who would ask, I would say that we have helped our young to become lifelong students, capable of anything, who understand listening to be a virtue, who will pursue truth in their work and in their life. Not a bad education.

Steve should know. After graduating from St. John’s he went on to study medicine—without a major in a scientific subject, and so without a specialty or job training. He is now one of the leading cancer specialists in the nation, heading up a world-renowned team at the City of Hope Hospital Comprehensive Cancer Center in California. In addition to caring for patients with cancer, he is currently directing several research grants funded by the National Cancer Institute, including studies in lymphoma and using bone marrow transplantation to treat and cure leukemia, while directing a research laboratory in tumor immunology that helps to develop new treatments for people with cancer. He has shown how a St. John’s education is personally fulfilling and a gift to the world.

When Steve says that our graduates can do anything, he is not exaggerating. For instance, some of you may know that there is growing body of St. John’s alumni who have gravitated toward careers in winemaking. The dean of them all is Warren Winiarski, who gave up an academic career in political science, learned how to make wine in California, and founded Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars in the early 1970s. In 1976, his 1973 vintage Cabernet Sauvignon won first place over the best French vintages at an international wine tasting in Paris—a first for any foreign wine! This success, which is now called “The Judgment of Paris” in wine circles, transformed the wine world, opening the door to wines from all over the world to be considered as true rivals of the best European wines. Smithsonian magazine recently published “101 Objects that Made America.” Among the museum’s 137 million artifacts, works of art, and specimens in the collection, Warren’s 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon was chosen alongside such items as Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit and Lewis and Clark’s compass.

Another example of how a St. John’s education is a gift to the world.

St. John's College, Annapolis, MDAnd then there’s Lydia Polgreen, who attended Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism after leaving St. John’s, before becoming a reporter for noted regional and national newspapers, then joined the metropolitan staff of the New York Times. Since then, she has taken on a number of positions at the Times—West Africa correspondent, covering the deadly crises in Dafur, Chad, and the Congo; South Asia correspondent, covering India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan and the Maldives; and now Johannesburg bureau chief. She has won numerous prestigious journalism awards, including the Livingston Award, the Overseas Press Club Award, and the George Polk Award for Foreign Reporting. Another gift to the world.

How about John Johnson, who went on after graduation to found many innovative foundations, institutes, and businesses in the filmmaking and entertainment industries. He is the co-founder of BuzzFeed.com, one of the fastest growing viral media and Web trending sites today, with offices in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Chicago, London, and Sydney; he founded Eyebeam (a center for developing and creating new media and open source technology in New York); and he also founded the Harmony Institute, a research organization that generates original qualitative and quantitative research on entertainment’s influence on individuals, communities, institutions, and policy. More recently, he and his wife Susan Short purchased an old hotel in Nosara, Costa Rica out from under a major international chain, renovated it, and created the Harmony Hotel—a 70% ecologically self-sustainable resort facility that provides many competitive jobs and is a successful example of sustainable practices to a very welcoming community. Another gift to the world.

There’s Leslie Jump, who left St. John’s to become a strategic planner and business developer, helping to build, advise, and invest in new companies, products, and brands. She was a director at MCI, part of the team that launched the commercial Internet as well as a partner in Sawari Ventures, a Cairo-based venture capital firm investing in emerging technology companies in the Middle East and North Africa. Leslie is also a board member at UP Global, a nonprofit dedicated to fostering entrepreneurship, grassroots leadership, and strong communities in the United States and across the globe. Most recently, she founded Startup Angels, a firm that educates investors looking to fund the startup costs for new companies. A gift to the world.

Then there’s Ryan Jensen, who went on after getting his master’s degree from the Graduate Institute to become a world-class barista and owner of Peregrine Espresso, the hottest coffee shops in Washington, D.C. And Iva Ziza, who is now a trial attorney with the Environmental Enforcement Section of the Department of Justice, working on the case against BP from the Gulf Oil spill. And Josh Rogers, founder and CEO of Arete Wealth Management, an independent boutique broker-dealer and investment advisory firm, who also writes for Forbes. After pursuing an executive MBA from Columbia University and the London School of Economics, Laura Strache joined a hedge fund in Manhattan as managing director for Sandell Asset Management; she is currently a director at Bank of America.

And Benjamin Closs, now a major in the U.S. Marine Corps, who recently received a meritorious service award for his achievements during his three-year assignment at the Pentagon. And Rebecca Needhammer, who thought she was destined for law school while a student, but is now teaching ballet in Flagstaff, Arizona, and plans to join a professional ballet company in the next year or so. And Chris Muscarella, who quickly after graduating cofounded Mobile Commons, a mobile tools company that pioneered the software for making non-profit and political contributions through text messaging, and went on to create Rucola Brooklyn, an ingredient-driven northern Italian restaurant in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. His most recent project, Kitchensurfing, connects people directly with chefs. And Kate Havard, who graduated only 18 months ago, entered the world of journalism, and has already worked at the Weekly Standard, and the Washington Post, as well as being a Collegiate Network fellow, a Hertog fellow, and a Publius fellow. As a Tikvah fellow, she recently joined the Wall Street Journal. Then go to the St. John’s College website and our alumni social media networks to see still more examples of the things our alumni are doing with their lives as teachers, researchers in a wide range of scientific fields, doctors, lawyers, architects, engineers, playwrights and journalists, novelists and speechwriters, entertainers and entrepreneurs. All extraordinary examples of how a St. John’s education leads to happy and successful careers that are also gifts to the world.

I think that our alumni demonstrate pretty conclusively that one can go on to do just about anything with a St. John’s education. A recent alumni survey demonstrates that they too believe this. Ninety-four percent of them said that they were satisfied with their St. John’s education, the large majority of whom said they were very satisfied.

The next post will complete this three-part series by describing how our diversely creative and talented alumni came to flourish precisely because of their St. John’s education.


  1. Max C. Duncan   •  

    My example of diversity in teaching is Joe Hollywood.-a St. John’s graduate. Joe was one of our best teachers in the Physics Department at the Naval Academy when I was Chairman- Captain Max C. Duncan USN(Ret)

  2. John Hobson   •  

    I don’t see the point of Chris Nelson’s message. It is normal that given the number of students that are educated at St. John’s and the high standard of some of them, we can expect that some will be the major successes that Chris shows in his blog. Unfortunately, some also will not be successes. Some students who do not go to any college are also successful in their business or other lives. To pull out 10-12 graduates and show how well they have done in their later lives does not prove anything.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>