Commencement 2014: SJC President Christopher Nelson

The Commencement address for St. John’s College Annapolis in 2014 was about struggle.  President Christopher Nelson ruminates on the unexpected and poignant themes in this commencement speech by Andrew Krivak’s in his new blog post here.

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St. John’s College alumnus Andrew Krivak (A’86) delivers his commencement speech to new grads at the Annapolis campus.

Johnnies confront ‘the joy of struggle’ throughout each work they read and many of the discussions they have in and out of class.  Do you have any stories about particular works you read that shook you to your core?  How did you overcome those challenges?  Are you still wrestling with these works or ideas?  Let us know in the comments!

To the Tutors of St. John’s College!

The following is a short speech delivered by senior Micaela MacDougall to an audience of tutors at one of the many end-of-year celebrations, reprinted with her permission:

I would like to use two quotes to illustrate the quality of the education provided by you as St. John’s tutors.  The first is from my favorite childhood book, The Last Battle from “The Chronicles of Narnia” series.  As the main characters are climbing higher into Aslan’s Country (a kind of heaven), the wise and learned Professor Kirke is trying to explain that this country is just like the Narnia they have left behind, only it is more real: it has more meaning, it is the original of which the old Narnia is just a copy.  At the end of his speech, he adds under his breath, “It’s all in Plato, all in Plato: bless me, what do they teach them at those schools!”

I am glad to say that all of you have provided a much higher quality of education than the schools that Professor Kirke finds so lacking.  You have not only taught us what Plato (and Aristotle, and Homer, and Augustine, and Aquinas, and Dante, and Shakespeare, and so many others) have said, but you have also, through your love for these authors, communicated to us why they are so worth reading.  You have guided us through their (sometimes rocky) terrain, always pointing us to the depth of meaning that we had difficulty seeing, always showing us how much these authors were worth thinking through.  Thank you for introducing us to the world of reality presented in the Great Books.

The second quote is from one of the many humorous moments in my senior essay text, The Lord of the Rings.  After one of Gandalf’s long and mysterious speeches, Aragorn says to him, “In one thing you have not changed, dear friend.  You still speak in riddles.”  “What? In riddles?” said Gandalf. “No! For I was talking aloud to myself. A habit of the old: they choose the wisest person present to speak to; the long explanations needed by the young are wearying.”

Though none of you are as old as Gandalf, you all still have a depth of wisdom that I find remarkable.  And yet, you still choose daily to take upon yourselves the wearying task of talking to us who are young.  And you do this not begrudgingly, but with grace and true concern for us poor young fools.  You talk to us not as if every word out of your mouths is a pearl of knowledge, but as though you truly value what we have to say.  You humble yourselves to become a learner alongside us, rather than a professor above us.  And this humility and care for others has taught us so much more than any mere giving of information.  You have shown us how to live in community and what it means to be human.  So thank you for not speaking only to yourselves, but for sharing yourselves with us.

To the tutors of St. John’s College!

Croquet & the Wall Street Journal

Last Saturday, St. John’s played the Naval Academy in our annual croquet match. Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal broadcasted a video of the event. Among others, Catherine Moon (A’14), Patrick McDowell (A’01), and Adrian Trevisan (A’84) were featured. Though we lost, the day was bright and sunny, our team looked noble in their togas and laurel wreaths, and good cheer and big hats were plentiful all around. Check out the video here:

 

 

Begone Dull Care! pt. 2

In addition to our video from last month of some of the Annapolis tutors performing I Saw Her Standing There by The Beatles at their annual gloom-dispelling winter concert, we also have videos of a few folk songs they sang for us.

 

Jon Tuck fronting a performance of Get Together by The Youngbloods, with, from left to right, Cary Stickney, Chester Burke, Emily Langston, Jon Tuck, Henry Higuera, Greg Recco, Judy Seeger, and Greg Freeman. There are some nice shots of the audience and the Great Hall in this video as well.

 

Judy Seeger singing and leading the room (as is her wont as the director of freshman chorus) in a rendition of Dink’s Song, an American folk song that’s been covered by many noteworthy artists from the ’60s.

 

Sarah Stickney, Greg Recco, Cary Stickney, Henry Higuera, and Emily Langston performing Stay a Little Longer, a “Western swing dance” song written by Bob Wills and Tommy Duncan.

Paper Chasing

Poetry night at a Johnnie's apartment. Photo by Anyi Guo

Poetry night at a Johnnie’s apartment. Photo by Anyi Guo

It’s time… to write… a… paper.

When our tutor tells us we have to produce six pages on The Nicomachean Ethics my anxiety spikes. After more than thirty years, can I do this? Can I write an academic paper with, you know, footnotes and coherent sentences and a thesis that might actually be interesting? Talking in class is one thing; many times people speak in roundabout and cryptic ways. The tutor usually performs real time (and face-saving) editing: “Oh, Mr. X is asking this, which is a good segue to…” Writing is less forgiving. The language that I’ve grown accustomed to at work won’t be suitable. You can’t do Aristotle with PowerPoint, business buzzwords, bullet points. (“Aristotle was first mover in the self-help market.”)

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Begone Dull Care!

Mr. Stickney and Mr. Burke performing at Begone Dull Care!

Cary Stickney and Chester Burke performing at Begone Dull Care!

Every February, some of the more musically talented tutors from the Annapolis campus put on Begone Dull Care in an attempt to dispel some of the gloom and doom that comes with Nap Town winters. Jon Tuck began the tradition in the early ’90s at the behest of our unofficial matriarch, Eva Brann, and the standard crew in recent years has consisted of the aforementioned Jon Tuck, Judy Seeger and her husband, Tony Seeger, Emily Langston, Chester Burke, and Henry Higuera. This year Greg Recco, Sarah Stickney, Cary Stickney, and Greg Freeman also performed, for the first time. If we’re very lucky, they’ll be invited back.

From left to right, here’s Mr. Higuera, Mr. Freeman, Ms. Stickney, and Mr. Recco performing I Saw Her Standing There by The Beatles.

If anyone has videos of the rest of the performances, please send them to johnnietalk@gmail.com. We’d love to have them on the blog.

How’s Herodotus?

Photo credit to Anyi Guo

Photo credit to Anyi Guo

“How are you finding Herodotus?” a youthful African-American student asked his colleague, an older white woman. There is nothing unusual about a conversational gambit like that at St. John’s. But for me, a new Graduate student coming off a quarter century on Wall Street, it is startling to hear. Startling and reassuring: his question was like the voice of a car’s navigation system, telling me I have arrived at my destination.

I came to St. John’s at 54 seeking the company of people who share the desire to know and the conviction that the greatest sources of wisdom are the books read here. As a teenager, my intellectual curiosity was something I occasionally concealed for fear of embarrassment, but now time is short and the inner call must be answered. I took a leap and traded conference room for Seminar table, prospectus for Plato. It’s been quite a change: in the slang of my old profession it looks to be a “good trade.” In the almost three weeks I have been a Johnny I have not once heard the questions that used to fill my day and my mind: “Where’s the S&P trading? How will the Fed handle the taper? What does 2014 mean for corporate profits?”

Those are not unimportant questions, but I prefer my colleague’s: “How are you finding Herodotus?” (“He’s a hell of a lot more entertaining a writer than Aristotle,” flashed through my mind.)

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Freshman Winter Chorus Concert

Domenic D’Andrea, A’15, has put together a beautiful compilation of some of the highlights from this year’s first Freshman Chorus Concert. As part of the chorus class all of the freshmen are required to take, the freshman class performs two concerts a year, one in the fall semester and one in the spring.

Some of the pieces featured in this track are Hine Ma Tov, a Jewish hymn; Come, Ye Sons of Art, an English ode written by Henry Purcell in 1694; Psallite, Unigenito, a Christian hymn composed by Michael Praetorius in 1609; and Waters of Babylon.

The full recording will be up soon, but this should keep you content in the meanwhile.

Going Home

Photo courtesy of Shayna Jenkins

Photo courtesy of Shayna Jenkins

Before I left for college, my cousin told me that the next time I came home, I would feel weird, because everything would still be the same, but I would be different. That my blue comforter, my messy desk with years of Seventeen Magazines and Cosmopolitans strewn around it, my little black Bunny, my mother’s warm and inviting arms, the loud commanding voice of my best friend would be the same, and it was I who was changing. There is something Ptolemaic about this understanding of the movement of life: that all these bodies and lives would remain stagnant compared to my growth, that the way I would come to measure the world would be through my own steps, rather than seeing it in concordance with those around me. This seemed wrong, almost self-involved, but, I mean, who was I to disagree with her four years at University of Maryland?

So I believed my cousin. This might have had something to do with the fact that she had long hair and a boyfriend who was cute and seemed nice, but there was also something else about it. I wanted to to know that everything would be frozen the way I left it. I wanted to know that my little sister would never start flirting with boys and my dogs would always be able to amble up the stairs with the dexterity of an eleven year old boy forever. I wanted to be able to come home and adapt myself to the world that I knew I fit into, since I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to fit into the crevice that was waiting for me to come slip myself into it at St. John’s.

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