“How Worthwhile Lives Are Built”

Mr. Roosevelt, President of St. John’s College in Santa Fe, addressing new undergraduate and graduate students at Spring Convocation, delivered these words as the reward for choosing and delving into a St. John’s education. He underscored the distinctive “intellectually driven climate” that would challenge all their former assumptions as well as the “open campus climate” that would civilly engage all opinions and questions, from Plato’s to Justice Sotomayor’s to, yes, your own.

With the spring semester in full swing, new and old graduate students are engaging with three different sets of authors, opinions, and questions:

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MALA (Master of Arts in Liberal Arts) candidates who are enrolled in the Literature segment, will be reading the best of Ancient Greek and English poetry. Why is Odysseus “many-turning”? Is the Wife of Bath vile or independent? What is Shakespeare saying about sanity versus insanity in King Lear? And above all, how is it possible that fictitious characters and plots make us feel the very fact of being alive?

The rest of the MALA students will make the long march from Herodotus through Tacitus, on to Vico and Montesquieu, all the way up to Heidegger and Leo Strauss, civilizations building and crumbling along the way. The History segment will challenge them to ask what is history, or rather, what makes history? The war careers of exalted men? Is there such a thing as progress? And are the past’s stories the same as the story of the past?

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Last and in no way least, the students pursuing their Master of Arts in Eastern Classics continue their study of Indian and Chinese masterworks, beginning with Kalidasa’s epic Kumarasambhava and finishing with Wang Yangming’s criticism of Chu Hsi’s Neo-Confucianism, constantly asking in what ways are the Eastern thinkers different from Westerners, and how different really are these two (supposed?) hemispheres of thought. Alongside the texts and enhancing them, the language tutorial allows students to familiarize themselves with Classical Chinese or Sanskrit up to the point where they can translate ancient works on their own!

An exciting and challenging semester awaits these hard-working students. Any parting words of advice I’d have were already said by Mr. Roosevelt at Convocation. “Work hard. Be present. Share your mind. Give and get the utmost.”

[Read the text of his full Convocation Address here.]

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