By Lee Cranberg (AGI’20)
[Reprinted from Colloquy, Vol. 3, with permission from the author and editors.]
I have been aware of St. John’s College for almost half a century. I first learned about the college in 1969, my junior year in high school, when I read How to Read a Book by
Mortimer Adler. I was excited by the audacious notion of dispensing with textbooks
and instead learning directly from the Great Books (learning geometry from Euclid,
evolution from Darwin, etc.). However, scared off , I did not apply when I learned that
Greek and Latin were required. Too audacious.
I regret not applying. The misgivings came quickly. During my first or second year
in college, I met a St. John’s student who was visiting my campus. For her, the Great
Books curriculum had proven to be as exciting as she had imagined it would be. When
she told me that her favorite book so far had been the Bible, the thought ran through
my head: I intended to read the Bible, but haven’t. More power to her and her St. John’s
I had the opportunity to visit St. John’s in Annapolis at age 29, and I sat in on one
or two classes. I was excited by what I saw. The books I aspired to read were getting
read. And they were being savored, probed, debated. The discussions spilled out of
the classroom and into the caféteria, dorms, and even some of the extracurricular
activities. I knew I would have thrived at St. John’s. I regretted having been deterred
by mandatory Greek and Latin.
In my 40’s, my wife and I assembled a group of half a dozen friends to read the Hebrew
Bible in translation. We read about 25-50 pages a month and then discussed them.
The monthly meetings provided the discipline to do the reading, and over time, we
completed the Hebrew Bible.
For me, one of the temptations of parenting children was using my children to re-enact
my life, but in a manner that corrected the errors and omissions of my childhood. In
this way, I could live my preferred childhood vicariously through them. No doubt that
explains why I started talking up St. John’s to my two children when they entered high
school, put information about the St. John’s Summer Academy in front of them when
they reached the requisite age, pleaded with them to read the section about St. John’s
in Forty Colleges that Changed Lives, corralled them to go to the “Forty Colleges”
college fair when it came to town, and kept encouraging them to add Annapolis or
Santa Fe to the college-visit itinerary.
At the “Forty Colleges” college fair I attended with my daughter three years ago, I
made a beeline to the St. John’s table. If my daughter wouldn’t come with me to the St.
John’s table, at least I could go and learn some tidbits or pick up literature that perhaps
could be used to entice her later.
That evening at the St. John’s table I made an amazing discovery. I learned about
the existence of St. John’s’ Graduate Institute and its master’s-degree program. The
program had my name written all over it. Suddenly, the pressure was off my daughter.
I did not need to enroll in St. John’s vicariously. I could enroll myself.
And here I am.