Beginnings Higher Education

A Word of Welcome

The 2015-16 academic year is about to begin, and I’d like to take this opportunity to extend a special greeting to the new students who will be joining us for the first time.

I still remember my early days as a freshman in Annapolis—now nearly 50 years ago! I remember the friends I made in my first core group, with whom I still visit or correspond. We studied together a lot that year, practicing our Euclidian propositions together on community black boards and testing outrageous translations of Greek fragments.

I imagine that many of today’s newcomers will soon be doing the same. Our community flourishes because of the enthusiasm of our students fueled by their desire to know, and because of their commitment to talking with one another, sharing their ideas, and seeking help from their fellow students, knowing that this sharing and seeking will be returned over and over again.

Of course, encouraging this kind of conversation requires good subjects to talk about, and of those we have no dearth at St. John’s. There are the books, of course. And there are also the protagonists we meet in many of the books, those who move the spirit to imitate or reject their examples of human character and behavior. And then there are the endless questions, the ones we come back to over and over in each new reading: What does it mean to be human? What kind of world am I living in? What is my place in it, and how can I contribute something to it that is worthy of my humanity? In short, how should I live the one life that I have?

The good news is that our students have the time while they are here to reflect on these questions before acting on them, and this is important. It takes time to get to know ourselves well enough to judge what will nourish our own individual souls. And often it will be our friends who know us better than we know ourselves, who can take us outside ourselves, so that we can look inward and discover who we really are.

All this is a way of saying that our community is intentionally designed to encourage learning, and perhaps most especially self-learning. We rely on each of our community members to maintain and support that learning. I speak of our faculty, of course, but also of our staff, who are here to provide the services that support our students’ learning. Beyond that—and I say this especially for our freshmen—there are all your fellow students, including the sophomores, juniors and seniors, who have all read the same books that you will be reading and who have struggled with the same questions you will be asking. And finally, there are the more distant benefactors, our alumni and friends, trustees and donors, parents and relatives, who care enough about your learning that they give what they can to support this unique community and to help our students realize the dreams they shape while they are here.

So a hearty welcome back to all who are returning! And to our new freshmen: we invite you to share in the spirit of St. John’s, to undertake the friendships that will support you in your time here, to allow yourselves the pleasures of the club activities that call to you (always remembering to leave enough time for your studies!), and to provide the community with the nourishment you can contribute through your own special gifts.

Welcome to St. John’s! We look forward to having you with us for the next four years—and for a lifetime thereafter.